One Step at a Time
Mara had not ventured far from the Manor since the attack in the alley, save for her meeting with Sorcha and a brief journey out here and there to feed herself, after which she scurried back to the Manor in a heart-thumping panic. She had to get over that. Even running around as a cat didn't help; everyone who might want to harm her knew exactly what she looked like and there was only one silver and black mau roaming the Nachton streets as far as she knew.
She didn't want to go to Shades'; she was vexed with her great-grandfather for tipping of Mai, who had in turn brought Amir into it which was exactly what Mara had been trying to avoid. It did give her a warm little feeling of comfort, however she tried to deny it, to know that he had had his say. She knew why he was trying to distance himself from her but she loved him and missed him. She had forgotten that that went both ways... and he was still looking out for her. As for Shades, when Mara had expressed her displeasure to him he'd ruffled her hair, laughed, and told her she was welcome to take her concerns to the Elder of the Hunt. Hrmph. Jerk.
Mara knew the Manor wasn't entirely safe either; vampires allied with Subira could move here freely but she doubted any of them would be foolish enough to try anything here. She wasn't fooling herself though; she stayed close to the Manor because Amir was here, and because Jin was here. She knew she was being a little bit dependent but she couldn't help it. She would get over it eventually.
Tonight, however, was a quiet night. It was unseasonably warm so she had ventured outside, as a cat so she would remain warm, and now lay upon one of the benches in the gardens with her paws tucked up underneath her. She was mostly watching the sky and tracing constellations but every now and then her eyes drifted halfway closed like a real cat's would, as her thoughts wandered here and there for a minute or three.
The organic swirling patterns in the sand and the structure in the plants mixed together in a pleasing harmony. It was so different from the very formal and controlled look of the neighboring garden. Claire was musing on the differences in culture when she came upon a cat on a bench.
She saw Claire come into view and wasn't surprised when the woman stopped and greeted her. At the Manor anything on legs, paws, wings, and hooves might be your neighbor. In Mara's case she normally made no attempt to hide this particular ability when amongst her own kind. There were no other Egyptian vampires wandering Heolfor that she knew of, so the little mau could only be one person.
Standing and hopping down from the bench Mara shifted to a form more convenient for polite greetings, glad she'd worn her new coat.
"Good evening Claire," she said softly, with a smile. "Warm out for February, isn't it."
"Oui, It is."
She lifted her head to the clear night sky and then looked back at Mara.
"A good day to be out. I just came from work and thought I would wander the gardens before going inside."
The shelter was slowing sorting itself out. She had time to finish her work and find something to eat. Now she was comfortably home again.
"So were you just enjoying the night or waiting for someone?"
She didn't want to intrude if Mara had been expecting company.
"Both," Mara said with a soft smile as she took her seat once more on the bench in the conventional way. "I just didn't know who I was waiting for."
She glanced back and forth through the area again, but saw no one else nearby. She concealed a tiny sigh. Well. Mara wasn't opposed to having Claire's company so long as there was no snow around.
"Where do you work, if I may ask?"
She liked learning about people. She almost always asked. Innate curiosity was a useful tool for starting conversations.
Tonight he was walking back from a night of star gazing his telescope was neatly tucked back up in its case as he strolled through the garden back to the manor. The Japanese gardens tonight, he tended to alternate not wanting to slight the efforts of the gardeners. Or perhaps for the same reason he rotated his collection, he liked beautiful things but looking at the same view every day made one jaded to it. You could not appreciate it if it became 'common'.
Voices were not uncommon but he was rather uninterested in engaging in conversation. Except one of the voices he recognized as his elder sister. He made a detour to at least say good evening and was pleasantly surprised to realize he recognized the other voice as well.
"Good evening ladies."
He said with a small bow. But he didn't presume to sit down or join them.
"Well, if you do not think me intruding then I can keep you company for a bit."
The talk of the place she called work, brought a small smile to her face. Claire lifted her shoulders in a slight shrug. "It is less a job, more a commitment, I suppose. I volunteer at Erasma Women's Establishment in the city as their doctor."
She was a vampire and could not work full time as a physician anywhere but Sofia sought her help quite often with various illnesses and injuries among the women and children. In time, Claire simply began traveling to the shelter several nights a week. There always seemed to be people waiting for her.
Looking up at the new comer, Claire smiled brightly at Bao, before blushing slightly and giving him a nod of greeting. Hopefully with the still somewhat cool air, the heat on her cheeks would fail to be noticed.
"Bon Soir, Monsieur."
She wanted to invite him to join us but that was Mara's privilege. Claire could only silently hope.
Oh hell, next time she'd try laying a trail of jelly bellies or something.
She shook her head at Claire. "I would like the company."
Then, as Bao appeared, she included him in that statement with her soft smile. "Hello, Bao."
Mara looked up through slightly lowered lashes, trying to veil her interest in her clan-sister's reaction. Claire looked visibly brighter at Bao's appearance. And was that a hint of color in her cheeks that hadn't been there before?
Apparently snowball fights were some sort of vampiric aphrodisiac. She'd have to look into this further. Maybe she needed to lay a trail of snowballs instead.
Or just knock on the dang door.
Clearing her throat softly Mara said, "Erasma? I was there recently. It seems like a good place for those who need it."
Indeed, Mara had been faithfully crafting and selling her pieces to three separate stores in the Mall since Christmas. First had come the glass animals with the holiday themes, and then without. Now, with spring rapidly approaching, she was working on a line of spring flowers, all done in blown and spun glass with infusions of color in them. Each one was marked with a tiny paw print as her seal, and sold under that symbol rather than her name.
All of her proceeds had, thus far, been donated to the very establishment Claire volunteered for.
His smile warmed slightly. Bao was fond of his sister, and comfortable enough to tease her a bit.
"I'm not interrupting am I? It would be nice to be certain."
Of course, he didn't have any coffee this time so it should be safer and he hadn't walked in on a rather intimate embrace.
Claire was a pleasant surprise and though it was somewhat awkward and unnatural his smile warmed even a little further. Not that one could call it beaming or anything like that. Bao didn't beam. He hadn't in hundreds of years.
"Mademoiselle. A pleasure to see you again."
Ah the shelter again. It didn't surprise him that his elder sister would be interested in the charity. For a brief moment he considered offering to do some pro bono work for them. The urge didn't last long.
Should either woman ask for his help though, he would provide it.
"You are both involved with the shelter then?"
She took a seat on the bench and then slid to the outside of it so that Bao could sit next to his sister. They looked nothing alike so they were obviously related only by their Creator. That meant they could be involved for all she knew. The thought made her a little sad and she scolded herself for becoming silly over nothing.
His smile and words did make her heart beat faster. She was both amused and slightly annoyed by the reaction. Bao would likely never notice. She had that particular gift, to be forgettable. Sorin, who always lavished her with attention, said that she shouldn't complain so at the ability to go unnoticed. He told her that she was beautiful; he made it seem that men where frightened to speak to such a lovely, noble creature. When her Creator spoke that way Claire could briefly almost believe it. The truth was that she spent hundreds of years now being a fixture. She wouldn't know how to genuinely try to catch someone's attention if she wanted it. Not as herself, anyway.
She gave the seat next to her a little pat before replacing her hand inside the muff. Answering his question, she shrugged slightly.
"I am not certain but perhaps that is so?"
Turning her attention to her brother and Claire, she said to Bao, "You're not interrupting anything. I was just enjoying the night. As were you, I see." She nodded to indicate the case he carried. "Anything exciting up there?"
Claire's interest in her visit to the shelter did not go unnoticed either. "Yes, a few weeks ago," she said. She understood that Claire must also be missing Sofia, and wondered briefly if anyone had told her of the woman's fate. She pondered it for a few moments; it wasn't her place to say, but what if they'd been friends?
Mara quailed to think of Claire having a friend with such dubious pursuits as Sofia's had obviously been, but if they shared a passion for a cause maybe that had united them. She decided against saying anything; now wasn't the time or place, but if Claire was still interested after this she would direct the woman to Jin herself.
In answer to Claire's other question Mara shrugged modestly. "I've been making donations regularly since before Christmas. Their cause is... relevant to my past."
Delicately put, Mara was not far off from where Erasma's women were now. Claire would understand, she hoped.
"I am pleased to hear it. Should you like some coffee?"
He continued to tease, his eyes dancing. Part of Bao was actually rather pleased that Mara was interested in someone within the clan. But the other part... he was after all a younger brother and immortal or not that came with a certain amount of responsibility.
"Nothing remarkable but I had some time tonight. It sounds like things at the shelter have been more interesting?"
It didn't take much to combine what Claire had told him the last time they met and the little bit he was picking up here and make the assumption things were not back on track yet.
"You must have just missed her then. She seems to have...taken a trip out of the country." Claire forced a smile and added. "I am sure that she will be back soon."
Looking over at Bao when he mentioned the coffee, Claire repressed a smile. So Mara was responsible for spilling the coffee on him. Perhaps she should be grateful to her for the pleasant company.
She smiled Mara, leaning slightly across Bao to give her clan mate's arm a light squeeze. "Merci Beaucoup! They will be most grateful." The smile became a bit sad and she nodded slightly, speaking quietly. "I understand. Completely."
Realizing that she was practically in Bao's lap, Claire quickly sat back. Resting the hand lightly on his leg for a moment, she glanced at him.
"Mon Dieu! I am -so- sorry. I did not mean to be rude."
Claire returned the hand to her own lap, blushing slightly once more. Well that was certainly -not- the best way to be noticed.
((OOC: Permission granted to paw at the various people in this thread. ))
Mara nodded solemnly at Claire, her mischievous expression growing somber as she resolved to suggest Claire find Jin before this night was over. Or, perhaps, she could ask Jin to find Claire. She didn't think he knew Claire was affiliated with the shelter or surely he'd have mentioned it to Annette when they'd been there? Or at the very least, to Claire herself.
Well, now at least Mara had a reason aside from the pleasure of his company to seek Jin out. And sooner rather than later. She didn't want to keep Claire in the dark... no pun intended.
She didn't like lying or concealing the facts in front of Bao or Claire. She was fine with both when necessary, but she generally didn't dissemble before friends and family. She simply nodded at Claire, acknowledging the sentiment expressed and offering her a little smile in return.
...And then bit her lip a little at the other woman's embarrassment. Claire might think she was being rude but Mara didn't think Bao looked too put out. Of course, he also didn't really seem to notice.
What did one do in this situation? She could politely excuse herself and give Claire an opportunity to make an impression; she could try to gently nudge Bao but that thought did not appeal; or she could remain here feeling slightly awkward.
Behind Bao's back Mara simply gave Claire a somewhat knowing and apologetic look with a bit of a question behind it. Mara was no matchmaker. If Claire had designs on her younger brother however, Mara would make an excuse to head to another area and there would be no hard feelings whatsoever.
Bao polity retorted. Perhaps Mara had won that round, but he had often thought she would make an excellent lawyer. So that did not surprise him at all.
Apparently Sofia was still missing. His contacts hadn't found anything. On one had even found evidence of her leaving the city, but if it had been a private plane or by car that was not unusual. What was more odd was that he'd not found evidence of her arrival. But even that didn't bother Bao too much, it would be quite possible for her to be using another identity. If she were, then it was quite well done. He had nothing.
However, he did not comment one way or the other on the situation. He was rather distracted by a lapful of Claire. Bao was far too well mannered to actually react to it but it had been... it was not unwelcome. He awkwardly placed a hand over hers for jut a moment.
"Do not worry about it in the slightest. You are still looking for her then?"
Bao had, however, noticed that Mara hadn't said a word on the subject. He was beginning to suspect she knew something.
Bao's hand on her's was brief. It was warm and smooth, masculine but well cared for. It felt good on her's. She was disappointed that it did not last long. He had asked her a question and she struggled a moment to process what he asked.
"I...non, she has not sent any word. I still believe there is something wrong. The hasty disappearance is not surprising. Even for Sofia who was...well established, but a vampire. Things happen. Needs or wants. They change. It was the excuse that seemed off. Not Sofia."
She wondered if he had looked into it. If he had then surely he would have mentioned it if he had found something. Claire would not push; she was grateful that he offered.
However, as the conversation continued to revolve around the missing Sofia, whom Mara knew without doubt was not returning, she couldn't very well just get up and leave. She had to tell Claire something.
"Claire," she said softly. "You should talk to Jin. He was looking into where Sofia went. That's why I was there a few weeks ago, at Erasma. I went with him."
She lifted her shoulders, her eyes sad. It wasn't her place to deliver this news to Claire. Or, perhaps it was, since she had been the one to track Sofia. But here and now? Was this really the time to break it to Claire? How could there possibly be a better time to tell someone their friend or associate was dead? Permanently dead.
Mara bit her lip softly. She stood up and stepped away from the bench then shook her head and sat, this time on the arm of the bench with her feet on the seat, facing Bao and Claire.
"We did learn a few things," she said hesitantly. "Jin needed a tracker and I was here, so I helped."
It didn't tell the whole story obviously. The trail could have led anywhere. Different states, continents, anywhere. That they'd never left the building, though, was a saddening thing. And what if Claire hadn't known about Sofia's... hobbies?
And what if she did?
Mara wasn't equipped to handle this conversation.
Bao delicately cleared his throat and tried to come up with a new topic. It was a less than inspired choice but, in his defense it was short notice.
"Might I ask what brought you out tonight then? It is still a bit cold."
For February it was a bit warm but still, there was snow to be found on the ground yet.
He would, however, like to know what happened to Sofia and why Mara had become involved. But as she didn't want to discuss it he resolved to follow Mara's advice and ask Jin.
Jin had finished hunting for the evening and had run some errands as well. He was feeling fairly accomplished as he padded into the Japanese Gardens. He was not certain that he was much closer to finding this person but he was at least doing what he could to track down any leads that were available to him.
There were voices up ahead, one in particular caught his attention. Feeling rather playful, Jin faded from sight and began to slink forward, crouched low to the ground. She was sitting up on the arm of a bench talking to several others. Her back was to him. Jin sneaked closer, ducking below the level of the bench, he became visible. He didn't want to scare Mara, just surprise her. That was a difficult trick, especially with one so perceptive. Likely this close she could feel the heat of him. He pushed his head over the rail and into her lap.
Sofia did not go to Greece.
"The trail went cold." Claire stated it quietly but as fact, not a question.
She nodded and leaned a little forward, this time not completely over Bao. "Thank you for telling me."
Claire could ask for the specifics later from Jin. Right now there was no reason to ruin the company with something that she had been dreading but suspecting for a while.
She was going to answer Bao, when a giant furry head appeared in Mara's lap. It was startling, she jumped, grabbing the nearest thing to hold herself steady. After a few calming breaths, she realized she was clinging to Bao's arm.
It wasn't something that could be easily moved on from at this point however. Mara regarded Claire sadly as the woman reached her own correct conclusions and then nodded. "I'm sorry, Claire. I would have, or I'm sure Jin would have, mentioned something sooner if we'd realized you worked together."
Even as she said the words she tasted a familiar presence upon her tongue. Blinking slowly she inhaled, unsure if it were wishful thinking or if... yes. Mara smiled as she experienced a feeling of being watched that should have made her feel a little paranoid, but it didn't. Instead her heart skipped a few beats. Finally!
She did give a slightly startled, pleased laugh as she felt Jin's warmth against her legs. Mara felt for his massive head, ran her fingers over his velvety ears as he ceased to blend and appeared in all his playful magnificence beside her. She smiled happily into his big blue eyes even as she noticed Claire's little jump. It did not escape her notice that Claire immediately reached for Bao.
Mara continued to look down at Jin so as not to cause Claire any more embarrassment; obviously the woman was a little on the shy side. Mara could sympathize. "We were just talking about you," she said softly.
She stilled her hands upon his cheeks, determined not to pet him like a toy in front of his fellow Clanmates although the urge to do so was very strong. Mara tended not to mind it, herself, while in her cat form, but she didn't make the same assumption of every shifter in the Clan.