Time: The Next Day
Location: The Seine, Paris
David smiled to himself as he pocketed his wallet, his arrangement with the staff in charge finalized and walked back outside.
He had arrived somewhat earlier than was warranted, if only to ensure that everything would turn out perfectly. At first, he’d just intended to mess around a little with the Ambassador. Play a little game, maybe even steal something of hers as a memento, and have a good laugh all around. There was no real motive beyond the fact that he could, and of course, if he found something beyond her civilian identity to use against her down the line, well… all the better.
After the previous night, however… messing with her simply wasn’t enough. He couldn’t quite place his finger on what it was about her that made him feel so compelled to attempt to seduce her. Perhaps it was beating her at her own clever little game, allowing her to think herself victorious to make his own triumph that much sweeter. Perhaps he was charmed by her little façade, and was truly curious to take a peek behind the curtain once she thought the dance was over, so to speak. In truth, there were many ifs, buts and maybes surrounding this little venture of his, but one thing was certain: it was going to be a lot of fun to see it through.
‘Le Calife’* was a gorgeous thing: built in 1939, it had originally served as a cargo carrying barge in Belgium. Its current owner, however, had reconverted it into a moving restaurant that carried people in a magical dining experience across the Seine, passing through a multitude of Paris’ most emblematic locations.
Besides offering a unique perspective of the ‘City of Lights’ (the irony of which was not lost on the Avatar of Darkness), the boat itself was a thing of marvel. From the 300 year old Buddha that served as its nautical figurehead, to the 1800s stained glass that gave way to the city from the inside of its panoramic dining room, to the copper bar, the exquisite woodwork, the myriad of little details that had been put into it… it was practically a love letter to devotion itself; a walk through the past as they looked into the present and beyond. Indeed, the thief could hardly imagine a more romantic setting for their first date.
Most of the night’s guests had already boarded, the anticipation almost palpable in the air. David, however, waited patiently upon the docks, even as the time to set off drew ever closer. He wore a custom fitting, three piece suit of the darkest grey, coupled with a pair of emblematic black oxfords. An impeccable white shirt and a perfectly straight handkerchief to match combined with the colours nicely, and completing the ensemble was a fine tie of the same colour as his suit, with a pleasant, grainy texture, and a couple of exquisite cufflinks, where a number of small, rare black diamonds had been encrusted into an obsidian frame, describing together a complex yet uniform pattern: discreet yet extremely eye-catching once noticed.
David looked down at his silver watch. Just about as fancy and minimalistic as everything he was wearing, its black dial and strap complementing the outfit perfectly. Not as pleasing, however, was the time on display. Where the hell was she?
"Monsieur? I’m afraid we must be leaving soon. The Captain does not abide waiting for anyone,” one of the staff members called out, in hopes of getting him inside.
“There are still five minutes left before departure,” he rebutted, “And frankly, whilst I appreciate this city’s commitment to punctuality, the next time someone charges me a fortune and then lectures me about my own, they are going to find one of my very English oxfords up their very french butts. Understood?”
The man swallowed as David set his pale, blue eyes upon him, suddenly feeling very uncomfortable: his anxiety not dissimilar to when he found himself alone in a pitch-black room. He nodded, and proceeded to mind his own business, nervously checking the time.
Purposefully, letting the clock run to the last minute, a slick polished town car pulled up close along the docks. The suited driver jumped out of his seat to open the door for his passenger. A shiny enamel black pump stepped out of the vehicle first, while the driver offered his hand to help her stand out of the car. Taking it out of formality, Odette’s bob of blue hair appeared over the door stepping carefully around. Shoulders straight, a smile poised - as if the time really didn’t matter. Red, classic red lips, sharp black eyeliner with a touch of light-catching champagne eyeshadow on her eyelids. Her little black dress another classic choice, the dress was backless - the shoulders were connected with a little bowtied material tied just below the back of her neck, it’s short shoulder sleeves cut close with high neck and high waist. Her back tattoo was on full display, skin without a single scar. A pair of solid gold ball studs were in her ears, a small pearlescent gold necklace hung around her clavicle.
In her hand was a small black leather Prada clutch, enchanted with space to store a few emergency supplies. Not one to go anywhere without some backup, thanking her driver - she sauntered over to the docks seeing David Blackwood waiting for her. The first date she had been on in quite some time, with a night of a little preparation, she was on the playing field. There was frustratingly no information on David anywhere to be found, scouring through her friend groups - and social circles. Asking other dancers, critics, even reporters if they had seen or heard of him before. Nobody, except the few patrons who had been around him the night they met.
One thing was very clear after meeting David, he had orchestrated it. They were similar in that way, Odette remembered the nights she cased out potential partners by their social media profiles, dating histories and word of mouth. It was all fantastic practice becoming exactly what they wanted. It was theatre, emotional manipulation, and how far she could go before her unwitting lover realized they were apart of a game.
And yet, amidst everything she had to focus on - smuggling for the Syndicate, negotiating and treating the faerie in Paris, daily hours put into ballet. . . There was no distraction quite like a gentleman, especially when he insisted on treating her to a boat ride down the Seine. The barge itself was the picture of what tourists dreamed of when they thought of Paris. Beautiful, old, and romantic. It was a fantastic illusion.
As for illusions, she resolved to pick at the threads to unravel David Blackwood’s handsome and charming visage. Getting under someone’s skin, especially someone like David required a few tricks.
The heels gave her an extra few centimeters where she was now eye level in height with David, equal ground. Offering her hand for him to take she greeted him with a tender cadence, “Bonsoir, Monsieur Blackwood. Thank you for inviting me to dinner tonight, I’m sure this will be a treat for even a local such as myself.”
She gestured to the barge, “Shall we?”
David took her hand in his own, once again raising it to his lips, the irritation in his features gone, his glaucous blue eyes smiling at her as he did so. “The pleasure is all mine, Mademoiselle Favre,” he greeted her, stepping aside and raising a hand in the boat’s direction, “Please, after you.”
A staff member greeted them as they entered, showing them into the panoramic dining area known as ‘the Winter Garden.’ Their table rested right in the middle of the dining room, next to one of the stained glasses. It was just starting to get dark outside, and a set of four, medium-sized inverted dome lamps lit up, their stained-glass covers depicting colourful flowers separated by a metal rim.
Once seated, David donned an easy-going smile, a mysterious quality to it as he regarded her. The waiter produced a long, tube-nosed lighter, attempting to light the candle that stood dead center between them.
The thief allowed this to go on for several moments, an amused look as he rested his chin on his fist, the man’s frustration growing with each attempt as the light simply went out every time.
“My apologies, this is most strange. We always use fresh lighters at the beginning of every evening… If you’ll just give me a moment…”
“It is no bother, mon ami,” David replied in his perfect French, producing a small, platinum-plated lighter which produced a small filament of deep purple plasma as he lit it up, it’s look and sound not unlike a taser. He’d quickly found bunsen and plasma lighters were about the only thing that allowed him to keep up his smoking habit.
The waiter raised a brow, nodding in compliance as he gave them a pair of open menus. Before he left, David raised a hand, “We’ll have a bottle of your best pinot noir wine, si vous plait. If you have something from the Coast of Nights villages, that would be excellent.”
The man nodded knowingly, “I know just the one.”
David nodded, pleased, then went back to regarding his date, unabashedly admiring the figure the black dress cut on her, his gaze slowly moving upwards -lingering a second or two on the crimson of her lips- before finally settling on the black ice blue of her eyes, piercing into him.
“For a moment there, I wondered if you’d show up,” he confessed calmly, his smile widening ever so slightly, “Only for a moment.”
She crossed her leg over her knee, watching as the waiter failed to light the candle thinking of how to respond to him, he left to retrieve their drinks her gaze drifted back to David, “I live to keep people on their toes, I am quite curious about you Monsieur Blackwood. I wanted to commend you in person for your research.” She tucked a few strands of hair behind her ear, “Your ‘guess’ on my preferred drink momentarily impressed me.”
With one hand she fluttered at him, “Truthfully,” she lied, “That little fact alone would irritate most but it has resulted in dinner and an opportunity.”
The lie being it didn’t irritate her.
Glancing over the menu, her foot gently swaying back and forth in thought. As all the guests were properly seated, the barge pulled away from the docks gently beginning its journey down the Seine. The soft light of twilight cast a romantic glow around them. In this light, anyone could truly be anything.
David’s right brow raised simultaneously with the left corner of his lips. “Mademoiselle, please. The implication is hurtful,” he feigned offense whilst clearly remaining amused, the fingertips on his right hand coming to rest mockingly above his heart. “Ah, merci,” he winked at the waiter as he returned with a rare (and very expensive) bottle of red, presenting it to them.
“And what kind of opportunity do you suppose presents itself?” he asked as the man opened the bottle, proceeding to quickly open it and serve a small amount on David’s cup. He took it, swirled it for a moment as he smelled it, then drew a small sip, allowing it to linger in his tongue before swallowing, “Excellent, thank you.”
The waiter proceeded to fill their cups, leaving the bottle as he decided to return later for their orders.
Cradling the wine glass in the palm of her hand, she leaned into the back of her chair, again choosing to wait before drinking.
She replied simply, “To play.”
“You know what I like to drink, can’t let you go exposing all of my secrets.” She joked, taking a sip of the wine and having to stop herself from immediately making a noise of approval. It was good, another glance at the menu she saw duck, salmon, and steak. “Not without learning some of your own of course, what does a man who flashes money like it is his identification card do for work?”
David smiled to himself, looking down at the menu: the question was not entirely unexpected.
“Oh, you know, a bit of this, a bit of that. Whatever suits my fancy, really,” he shrugged slightly, deciding the steak was to his liking, “I started off as a consultant, mostly in legal and management fields. Eventually, I grew bored and started flipping real estate. Lots of passive income to be had. I also started a couple of companies of my own, which I sold off for a nice profit when the getting was good... What else... Venture capital, private equity, a healthy amount of stock market investment. Oh, yes, and I’ve been quite into art dealing lately. Although I would say it’s more of a hobby than an actual profession at this point.”
Her eyes narrowed briefly, no specifics, no names, vague. She replied, “How interesting,” She kept her gaze on him, “I have dabbled in real estate, I own the building I live in. I started with nothing, now I have everything I could want.”
“What is that you want, Monsieur Blackwood if your work and hobbies do not sustain your attention for long? Frankly, I would be restless if I were in your position.” Settling her chin into her palm, casually prying as she did, “I always have something set in my sights to achieve.”
That would possibly be the truest statement she’d express that evening, her ambition never let her rest. There was always someone else to win, a deal to broker, or another heart to break. He had money to throw around but surely he was throwing it at something in particular.
He smiled faintly, the pale of his eyes clashing against the intensity of her own as he broke his perfect posture, leaning forward slightly. “Oh, believe me, Mademoiselle Favre. There is always something that I want. My hunger knows no bounds.”
The candle began flickering nervously, casting strange shadows over his handsome features, until the man finally leaned back.
“Speaking of which, right now I want some steak. Have you decided yet?” he casually asked, closing the menu.
Her smile disappeared briefly in the flicker of the light, in another heartbeat it was back she blinked as she closed the menu, quietly she noted, “The guinea fowl, please.” Sipping again on her wine as she looked out the window to the view, seeing something in the shallows of the darkening water of the river.
“I am famished. I had a few auditions earlier today,” She said absentmindedly while focusing on the water. Something was swimming alongside the barge. “Manon, the demi-soloist I am covering for is still too sick to perform for Midsummer.”
Whatever it was, it wasn’t coming up for air - not yet.
“And they’re still considering her, after your performance?” he raised a brow at this, his eyes trailing hers. He, for once, saw nothing out of the ordinary, “Your director’s an idiot. Regardless, I trust they went well,” he noted. It was not a wishful statement: simply a fact, as the man signaled their waiter that they were ready to ask, getting their orders out of the way swiftly.
The barge began passing at a convergence point: on one side, the ‘Palais de Challiot’s’ grandeur greeted them, whilst on the other side the magnificence of the famous Eiffel tower shined down upon them: literally, as it had grown dark and the structure had been lit up.
The ambiance in the room had grown more intimate as the sun had settled, a dark atmosphere that suited the thief just fine. “Your city’s beauty never ceases to astound me,” he commented as he took a small sip of his wine. However, despite the splendor around them, his eyes remained firmly fixed upon her.
Putting her glass down she laughed at his comment about the director, hiding it behind a hand. His heavy gaze would surely have set others squirming in their seats, but she found herself liking it. One thing was sure her date seemed genuinely pleased, more than pleased with her performance. Her ego inflated at that, looking up to the Eiffel Tower trying to see it as he must have, her city’s center where all roads met, “I have a memory from every point on the river, could tell you more than a tour guide has rehearsed. A real Parisian’s Paris is much different than what you can pay to see.”
She pointed to the tower, “Parties, school trips, midnight trouble painting the town red, dates much like this one. Dares to climb to the top of the spire without being caught by security,” She sighed, unable to control the admiration - the bubbling nostalgia. “It’s beauty never wears away, even when she has many faces.”
Wondering briefly if David would ever be prepared to see beyond what she would present. There was no way of telling, at least for now.
David actually chuckled at this. “I’m almost jealous. Sounds like you’ve had quite the exciting life here. Who knows, perhaps you and I can scale the tower some time, mhm?” he asked. Despite his general state of slight amusement, the man didn’t seem to be joking: if anything, he seemed a bit too eager, his imagination having flared. “Just… don’t tell my insurance company. My worth would plummet,” he winked at her.
“I would, however, wait to make any assumptions regarding this date until it’s over,” he leaned back slightly on the comfortable chair, “If by the end of the night you still feel like you’ve been on dates ‘much like this one,’” he echoed, “I will conclude that I am not worthy of pursuing you further, and shan’t bother you anew.”
“How amicable of you.”
She scrunched her nose as she smiled, teasing him, “Having only met you I already find it hard to believe you’d think yourself unworthy of anything.”
Odette saw the waiters begin carrying silver platters with entrees and appetizers, she had failed to notice any significant amount of time that had passed since they placed their orders. It clearly had as the Eiffel Tower was long left in the background now. Time had slipped by her. The servers both placed their steaming entrees before them, offering freshly ground pepper - efficiently filling their glasses with water as quickly as they had come they bowed their heads and quietly said their bon appetit. Before her was a plate that could have easily been pulled from magazine pages, the smell alone made her stomach rumble.
She almost wished she was at home to eat this.
Pleasantly she smiled raising her glass of wine to David, “Bon appétit, David.”
“Bon appétit,” he echoed, the sound of glass hitting against glass filling the air.
Dinner was... well, wonderful, much to his chagrin. Unlike Odette, David had no qualms devouring his steak (with impeccable manners, naturally). However, most of the course they spent talking and enjoying each other’s company. David could not count the number of women he’d dated, from veritable bimbos to artists of renown and neuroscientists... but in the brief time he’d known her, none seemed quite as exciting as her. Perhaps it was the fact that she led a double life, just like him or the fact that he knew just how dangerous she was... but whatever it was, a part of his brain had to constantly remind him that he was playing a game here: every time she did that little thing with her nose and smiled, or took him somewhere else with an anecdote, or looked at him like she could chew him up and spit him out. Even when they engaged in a battle of wits -which was more often than not,- subtly quipping and counter-wisecracking, even when he cheated, she still managed to make him drop his guard ever so slightly. Something easily corrected, of course, but which should not have happened to begin with.
By the time their courses were retired, they had gone through most of the bottle of wine, and had made their first pass across the Invalides, the Grand Palais, the Assemblee Nationale and the Musée d’Orsay, and where slowly creeping up to the Louvre: a place he knew intimately. Despite all this, his notice of them was passing at best.
Failing to stifle another giggle behind her hand, she said, “If there comes a time when-” Eyes glided up to look out the windows but not before catching another set of eyes staring at them from across the dining area, she continued to look away up to the scenery pretending she hadn’t noticed them, changing what she was about to say, “. . .When someone knows that staring across the room is incredibly rude.” She chewed at the inside of her cheek.
She looked back to David, “Behind you there is a pair of strangers staring us down, I do not recognize them. I do not normally get accosted in public for ballet.”
It is because I usually can cast a spell on them to ignore me., she thought, drumming her nails against the table.
David frowned slightly at this, looking back over to them. A dawning suspicion grew on him, the man shooting them an irritated look.
“Well,” he turned back to look at her, his features softening into a pleasant smile, “This is kind of a high-end restaurant. Not the craziest place to find some of your fans. Don’t worry, though, I know just how to deal with them.”
With that, he turned around again and flipped them off. This earned him a couple of wide eyes from a guest or two that caught the gesture, but the thief did not seem to mind terribly, as the quartet became rather flustered at all the attention they were suddenly receiving, looking away and muttering amongst themselves.
David smiled at her, although something in the back of his mind told him this wasn’t quite over. “See? Sometimes being the rudest person in the room is the best way to deal with undesirables,” he noted, taking a small sip from his glass. “Not that I’d want you to cultivate such a dreadful image of me,” he added, though there was a hint of playfulness in his eyes.
“David,” She admonished without any heat, her frown melting away into a small laugh, “It seemed to work, this time.”
Squinting at their backs before returning to David, “More wine?”
“Please,” he smiled, mildly happy he hadn’t completely blown it, “In fact, if you’ll excuse me, I’m afraid I must use the service. Why don’t you get us another bottle in the meantime? We still have another couple of hours before the cruise is over,” he asked as he stood up, neatly placing his napkin on the table.
As he passed her by, his hand idly caught a stray strand of blue hair, neatly tucking it behind her ear without actually ever touching her: mostly sleight of hand, coupled with a small measure of his power, almost imperceptible tendrils of darkness finishing the job for him. He smiled to himself: he was getting better.
And if his suspicions were right, some unfortunate folks were about to learn just how much.
She sat still as he nearly touched her, a hand curling around the hem of her dress. As he passed she turned in her seat to watch his back disappear, noticing a pair from the table that stared at them had gotten up to leave shortly after David had.
He never did quite make it to the bathroom, sneaking instead to the outside terraces. He was careful to make sure Odette did not see, but obvious enough that the nosy table would.
As expected, eventually two of the four ‘rude guests’ made it to the deck, which was fortunately vacated. The couple, a man and a woman, looked around for David, but he was nowhere to be seen.
“Where the hell did he...”
The woman was never able to finish her phrase as a pair of shadowy tentacles seemed to appear out of nowhere, covering both their mouths and effectively muffling all sound. Another four tendrils wrapped around their wrists, preventing them from moving their arms freely.
“I am assuming since one of the ladies is hereafter I showed you the bird, you’re not just here to kick my ass for being a tad too cheeky,” David appeared behind them: his shadowplate might make him stealthier, but he did not need it for a good old disappearing act. The shadows twisted them around, forcing the pair to face him. “You’re Obscurati, are you not?”
Both of them shot venom at him with their eyes. David sighed, and not being one to hurt a defenseless lady, he gave the man a low left hook, right in the kidney. His eyes widened, his knees buckled, but David’s shadowmancy wouldn’t let him fall to the ground.
“You people have tested my patience far enough. Listen to me, and listen to me closely: I don’t have the Heart of Erebus anymore. It’s disappeared. Gone when it gave me these powers. And I am certainly not interested in making any deals with you lunatics,” he sighed, “At first I figured I would just vanish, make you give up. But I’m starting to see that is no longer an option. I don’t know how you’re tracking me, and frankly, whilst our little game of cat and mouse was amusing at first… now you’ve decided to meddle in my private life. That was a colossal mistake.”
He began adjusting his suit. “Here’s what’s going to happen: I’m going to go back to enjoying my lovely date, and you two are going to enjoy a lovely swim in the Seine. Once you get out, you’re going to call your bosses and tell them to start running scared: Noir is bringing the war to them.”
Their screams were never heard as the shadows flung them over the boat and dragged them inside the water. David waited for a few moments, keeping his concentration before finally releasing them. And with that, he went back inside: he’d figure out how to deal with the other two goons as he went. After all, the mark of a great thief was knowing how to improvise when things didn’t go according to plan.
“I’m sorry I kept you waiting,” the man apologized as he returned to his seat, a small smile on his face, “I promise not to make a habit of it.”
While David had been quite busy Odette received a few visitors of her own. She maintained a strained smile, a new bottle of wine sat on their table and her foot anxiously bounced under the table. To her left, noses pressed up against the windows spotty faces of three happy Selkies smiling toothily at their Ambassador. Waving and calling out to her in common fey for her ears and her ears only. With no way to tell them to go away, they carried on, oblivious to her apparent attempts to ignore them.
More selkies joined the other side, not before getting distracted by something in the water - pushing away from the windows to investigate.
The wine in the bottle sloshed as their presence moved the water to them and made waves splash against the barge. Forcing the captain to adjust course.
“Welcome back.” she said, forcing her foot to settle on the ground, “I hope everything is alright?”
Trying to focus on him instead of the Selkies.
“Why wouldn’t I be? As far as I’m concerned, I am currently one of the luckiest men on earth,” he deflected, donning his best smile as he served her some more wine, trying not to look back at the other two. For all their crazy cultist talk, the Obscurati had so far been discreet in public. He’d just have to trust there hadn’t been a change in policy. Subtly, he attempted to change the subject, “I have to say, that’s quite the tattoo you have on your back. A yew tree?” he prodded.
Odette nodded, “Oui, you have a good eye. It is a yew tree. I have a special. . .” She searched for the right word in English, pursing her lips as she did, “L’attirance, a connection to the symbol of the Yew. I promised myself to only get one tattoo in my life, the hair,” She chuckled, “Is already pushing it for ballet while tattoos are frowned upon for dancers.”
Glancing down at the table, away from the Selkies, “Deciding on a large, tasteful, depiction of a tree on my back was my way around the rules.”
“There are always loopholes,” she noted quietly, mostly to herself. Glancing back to the right, expecting to see the Selkies return - the window was vacant, she turned to the left and saw they were gone as well, something got their attention. Confusion writ on her expression.
Deep below the waters, the selkies were drawn by the thrashing of bodies trying to swim against the current with no real luck. They surrounded the man and woman, invisible to them especially in the darkened waters of the Seine. Rubbery hands gripped their legs tugging them underwater, wherein the darkness the faerie revealed themselves to the cultists. Their mouths opened, gaping happily at the cultists - greeting them with their teeth, touching their faces as they dragged them lower to the bottom of the river. Bubbles at the surface where the cultists disappeared, rapidly skimmed then slowly faded. Unseen, impossible to tell with no natural light, were blots of blood rising to the surface as the bubbles once had.
Descending from the shadows of the Louvre came the shrouded figure, witnessing the deaths in the only way she knew how to: by screeching into the night. Her wail ripped across the Seine, her pale face in agony as she sailed over the spot where the cultists were seen last. Her wailing persisting for a few minutes, piercing ears, chilling bones, signaling the sometimes abrupt end mortals face.
All the patrons aboard Le Calife carried on while Odette waited for the Banshee to complete her cry. Schooling her expression, however, what surprised her was David’s reaction.
He had been listening to her intently, trying (and failing) to remember any kind of symbolism that was particularly connected to the yew tree. He opened his mouth, about to spew a clever remark, as always.
“Well, I think...” he paused, however, a frown drawing on his expression, nose burrowing, almost as if he’d caught wind of a bad smell.
His eyes suddenly widened, pain visible in his contorting features as he brought both hands up to his ears.
“CHRIIIIIIIIST! What in the Devil’s name is that?!” he cried.
The dome lights began to violently flicker, and the candlelight between them went out entirely. A few patrons looked at him with concern, others at the lights above them. Odette’s expression clued him in: he had to be the only one who could hear it. He looked around, noticing no one else seemed to be affected. He even suspected some kind of sonic attack, but the two remaining Obscurati seemed as confused as everyone else.
Desperate, the man breathed in quickly through his nose. It was hard to concentrate, but fortunately, he’d always fared well under pressure: with a magnanimous effort, he created two small earplugs, pure darkness clogging them.
It took him a moment to compose himself: for the first time in a long time, he found himself at a loss for words, the room’s lights returning to normal.
“I... I’m sorry,” he told her, although he could not hear himself speaking, a hint of a blush in his cheeks, “I truly don’t know what just came over me.”
Staring at him, Odette only broke her eyes away to look at the lights then the candle. Her brow furrowed as the wailing began to fade, the barge continued to sail away from the deaths and banshee, she hadn’t known a banshee to effect the lights with her wail before. . .perhaps she had known the people that died and that was why it was different? David… he without a doubt heard her wail, but he hadn’t seen the selkies. Was he transitioning to see and hear them? The selkies were right in the window. . .She was confused, he had no idea what he just heard that much was clear by his reaction.
“Monsieur Blackwood,” She began her tone shifting, the first question to naturally ask, “What exactly did you hear?”
David could not hear a word she was saying, but fortunately, Swiss and the Quiet Man had taught him the art of reading lips during the early stages of his ‘career'.
“I… I’m sure it was nothing,” he stuttered unconvincingly, “Perhaps I have a mild ear infection?”
Now, that was perhaps the crappiest excuse he’d ever given, but all things considered, he was fresh out of ideas, having no actual idea of what had just transpired.
Odette stared for a moment longer then relaxed, would it be worth pursuing at risk of sounding paranoid or crazy herself? How could she explain hearing a banshee or describing what he may have heard as anything else beyond a strange occurrence. The occult was a sure way to ruin dinner, as were faerie in general. Her thumb drummed on the stem of the wine glass, the longer she thought the awkward air of silence grew between them. They needed a distraction. She’d have to let it go, for now.
“Perhaps we can go for a walk?” Odette suggested, “Get some air?”
She seemed to read his mind, and his smile was almost grateful as he stood from his seat. He doubted for a moment, steeling himself as he removed the shadow-plugs. His smile widened, relieved, upon seeing the horrific, excruciating cry had disappeared. His composure seemed to return to him as he straightened up, his smile growing enigmatic.
“Actually, I think I have a better idea. Come with me, I have a little surprise for you,” he invited her, motioning towards their waiter and signalling towards the bottle and glasses, the man nodding in some sort of silent agreement between the two.
Another staff member pulled aside a red velvet cord from one of its black and brass posts, allowing them passage down a set of stairs, leading them down to a door. David opened it halfway, signaling with a hand for her to enter.
“After you, Mademoiselle.”
As soon as she would enter, she would be greeted by a beautiful, bending stairway, its golden railings leading down to an oval room. As they began to descend, the room slowly illuminated, spotlights shining down one by one on the cleared area to present an improvised ballroom. In the back sat a beautiful, 1879 Steinway piano, a lady in an elegant dress behind it, a small, string band sitting nearby. However, they remained mostly shrouded in darkness, as if to create the illusion that they were not entirely there.
Their first step on the dancefloor served as the cue for the band, which began to play a beautiful, slow waltz. David extended a hand to her.
“Would you do me the honour?”
The sight of the dancefloor warmed Odette to the core, the hesitation she had following him across the threshold down the stairs evaporated, the music brought a certain light to her eyes. When her eyes settled on David, inviting her to dance with him. She found herself having no doubt in his sincerity, placing her hand in his.
“Oui, Monsieur.” She said softly.
As his hand closed around hers lifting it up while his other hand rested on her waist, easily the closest they had been all evening. Her free hand rested, informally, against his shoulder between their arms, Odette followed his lead, her gaze not leaving his own. The small bit of tension that had been present all evening began to bubble anew between them, as they stepped in time to the waltz, moving as one.
“You know how to dance.” She stated, matter-of-factly.
David chuckled as they glided across the dancefloor. “That is high praise coming from you, Mademoiselle,” he seemed to thank her, “My family was rather keen on me being able to… adapt to any kind of social situation.”
Why the hell was he talking about his family right now? And what perfume was that?
“I did my best to show my discontent with it all, but I always secretly loved to dance,” he noted as he lifted his arm, his posture perfect as she gracefully twirled around beneath it, finally catching her as their bodies knelt in unison, “I even caught on to a few tricks of my own.”
Pressed against his torso as they knelt she held her breath involuntarily, smoothly being brought back up to standing stepping in a circle together all in time to the music, responding as they danced, “Your secret love of dance is safe with me,” she said, stretching out their arms they stepped in unison once more in a circle holding each other’s hand, “Dancing for me is freedom.”
With a slight tug Odette spun back into his arms once more, “Free to choose, free to express. . .” She leaned over his shoulder to whisper, “Freedom to simply be.”
“Is that what you want?” he whispered back, the volume of his voice matching her own.
Odette tilted her head, waiting for him to continue.
He held her close, eyes gazing deep into her own as he began leading into a particularly complicated set of steps for a waltz. Unsurprisingly, she had no trouble following him as they hovered above the wooden boards, their dance becoming almost something out of fantasy.
“I believe you believe it is. Truly,” his words were soft, for her ears only, “And perhaps it is, in some small measure. But please, let’s be candid for a moment here... You want to choose? To express? You couldn’t care less what the world thinks about you. You just want them to think you do. And I know you want more than to simply be.”
He raised his hand again, her dress floating as she began elegantly twirling around him, speaking in pace with her turns. “You want to know the unknowable. To control the uncontrollable. To triumph against the unbeatable. But it’s never enough, is it?” he asked as he caught her, “It’s never enough to truly feel.”
For a moment, it was hard to discern whether he was talking about her, or himself. The music slowed down, and they took a step apart to perform a courtsey, signalling the end of the dance. He held onto her hand a second longer than was warranted, before bowing to her.
The music came to a stop, leaving a charged silence between the two. David proceeded to calmly remove his cufflinks, then his jacket, walking away to leave it aside, neatly folded. As he returned, he rolled up his sleeves, before looking towards the band and producing two, circular motion with his index finger pointing towards the ceiling. Understanding, they began playing a fiery bachata song.
He came close, but did not embrace her even as his hands got into position, waiting, almost challenging her to join him.
Knowing what pace he was about to set, Odette straightened her hair and stepped up. As if she’d shy away from something even if it was outside her normal wheelhouse.
She was the professional, afterall.
Placing her hands in his, she smiled then followed him once more into the steps. Knowingly he wrapped his arm around her torso, no space between them now. It felt as though they were hitting a carnal chorus line. Odette knew as he found his way beneath her skin, she had the same effect on him.
As they danced it became increasingly clear, there would be only one outcome for the evening.
The bachata called for loose hips, depending on David to balance her weight against himself, quick and decisively fluid steps. It was surely a complex movement but they made it look easy.
They no longer found themselves talking, yet their conversation carried on.
As the music picked up, their movements became more frenzied, yet at the same time, more intimate. An intuitive choreography where, no matter how much they twisted and turned, knelt and rebound, their bodies always found each other. He could barely think as her entirety arched in teasing motions; as he pressed his hands upon her belly, her shape moving in unison with his; as she threw her arms around his neck, her breath warm and inviting, red, truly red lips mere barely an inch away from his own.
The music died down and they stood like so for… well, he wasn’t quite sure. Sweat ran down their foreheads, their chests heaving together, their noses brushing against each other.
It took him all the willpower he had to take a step back, never really letting go of her. “Perhaps... perhaps we should get some air,” he suggested, a smile on his face as he tried, for once, not to make eye contact.
Gripping his shirt in a fist she held, finding her thoughts back on track counting her breaths as her heart had drummed on. Nodding against his forehead, pushing off from him slipping out of his hands, placing a hand over her chest. For a moment her thoughts weren’t with her, their dance was just a blur of movement. The pianist stood handing them cloth napkins, Odette dabbed carefully wary of her makeup. They climbed the stairs back up to the upper decks, where they could step outside. Walking at a leisurely pace, letting her hips sway.
Past the patrons, up the stairs to the viewing deck Odette and David arrived to the railings, looking out with a slight evening breeze greeting them. Odette fanned her face, taking a deep breath in through her nose. Letting the moment comfortably rest, as Paris slowly passed them by.
“That was. . . exhilarating, Monsieur.” She began after some time, a certain glow warming her cheeks, turning to face him, “I-”
Scrunching her nose with another smile, it was to her surprise - genuine, “I enjoy dancing with you. As we dance around with our words, secrets, and bodies. . .” Reaching up to caress his cheek, “You are right, I want more. I am never simply satisfied, but-”
Grinning as her hand fell to his collar, she gripped the material - fire burning in her eyes, “I think you could for the night.”
For a second, he was hers. The world, the beautiful city, everything seemed to dissipate around him as her nose scrunched, as her hand gently ran down his face, as she brought him closer... then he smiled.
The spell was broken, and she was right where he wanted her.
“Do not turn around. I have eyes on the target. They appear to be heading to the upper deck.”
Agent Wedge, or more accurately, Shadow Agent Wedge, nodded in understanding, taking a bite out of his flan. “I do not like this,” he idly commented, his voice low, “We still have no word from our ‘friends.’ Do you think he...?”
Agent Biggs shook her head. “It does not suit his profile. He’s quite happy to hurt, but he does not kill. Did quite a number on some of our boys last night, but no casualties,” she noted, taking a bite of her own brownie, “Amateurs.”
Wedge grimaced, “That is a bit of an understatement. Have you seen what he did to Commander Sven? Punched his jaw clean off.”
“He had literally just received his powers,” she countered, “And the way I hear it, the Commander did very little to fall in his good graces.”
“I still think we should just have the bastard shot from afar,” Wedge countered, frustrated, “Give me his location and a rifle and I...”
She shook her head again, clearly the superior officer. “It’s not that easy. The Heart of Erebus now resides within him. We need to extract the body or we could lose it again. Alive, preferably, so use the non-lethal rounds. Now finish your flan, he’s distracted, and won’t see the both of us coming if we flank him. It’s unlikely we’ll get a better chance.”
“What about the girl?” Wedge asked.
“What about her?” she shrugged, licking the last chocolate goodness of her spoon, “Seine’s as good a place as any to dump a body.”
Bollocks, he thought. Another of those Obscurati wankers, and at the most inconvenient time of all.
He brought Odette closer to him, his hand on the small of the back as he leaned in to whisper in her ear. His eyes, however, were on the man behind Odette, producing a gun.
“My dear Odette,” he said, his concentration focused on producing inky tentacles out of the surrounding darkness, “One should be careful what they wish for... It’s like I said,” he continued, slowly, trying not to lose his concentration as a dark mass assaulted the man, twisting around his mouth and his gun hand. One of the dark tentacles began sharply snapping back, making the man smack himself with his own gun, once, twice, then a third strike that sent him careening over the railing, “One can never have too much of a good thing.”
Hearing him speak her name, she tightened her hand over his arm. Over his shoulder, Odette saw the other darkly clad Obscurati, unbeknownst to her what she actually wanted, to Odette all she knew was that they had interrupted their dining experience. In French, she comfortably switched as if it was a matter of being able to express herself more accurately, but really it was to work in a few Words of Power to dispose of the woman.
Draping her arms over David’s shoulders, making eye contact with Agent Biggs Odette’s hands glowed light blue she spoke to David, “There is no denying the pull, pooling tension.”
It was a water-based spell she had picked up from the fey, specifically Princess Lassantra. Mystic blue mist fell over Agent Biggs’ head, the colour drained from the woman’s face as the blood throughout her body was pulled into her chest. She clutched at her shirt stumbling, gripping the railing, gaping as she stared at Odette - horror etched into her expression. While the sorceress only smiled, tucking her chin against David’s shoulder. Releasing the spell closing her hand into a fist, the Selkies had returned, Odette gave a slight nod of approval. Happily, they pulled their final victim for the night into the river.
She leaned back, a hand at the nape of his neck, cold little blue wisps of light disappearing as her hand relaxed.
He furrowed his brows slightly at her choice of words. Perhaps he was a bit rustier than he thought? No, that was ridiculous. It was clearly some kind of local idiom he was unfamiliar with.
Besides, what did it matter? She wanted him… and she was far more than he had expected. Than he could’ve hoped for. She was maliciously smart, twistedly funny and painfully beautiful. He could almost feel the tension between them, energy crackling in their proximity. All the Gods in the Olympus be damned, he wanted her.
‘I will steal your heart,’ he thought to himself.
He then smiled at her, the back of his fingers caressing her cheek before cupping it, slowly sliding to the base of her neck.
“Don’t say I never warned you,” he whispered, then leaned in as the hand on the small of her back brought her close against his body.
His kiss was soft yet deep, a conundrum in and of itself. The thief flavoured it, yet showed restraint, controlling his eagerness.
Passion, mystery, death, drama, and romance. Things Odette once believed impossible to achieve in a single night. As his lips found hers, she wanted to know more, pull back the layers and find the strange shrouded heart. Keep it for herself and herself alone, this fine, new - delicate thing she held in her arms.
Surely she was strong enough to prevent the past from repeating itself, surely her equal was out there man or woman. The only way to find them was to look, not only look but to see. She felt his restraint, the invitation. Breathing in deep from her nose, they naturally parted after a few moments held in suspended time.
“Don’t hold back.” She breathed.
“Heh,” he laughed under his breath, “If you only knew, my dear. If you only knew.”
*This is a real place, yo. If you’re ever in Paris, treat yourself.