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January 19th, 2020

6:30pm

Thyrsus

 

 

 

Dark lashes were narrow as small hands flipped elegantly through the financial report.  Legs crossed demurely in her pale gray silk crepe business suit, vintage Vince Camuto Naveena heel bobbing quietly up and down in the back of the sleek S 350.  Opalescent russet irises glanced up and out of the tinted window, resting her forehead on her fingers.  This rebuild was costing a fortune.  She really didn’t give a shit, truly.  Her resources were substantial.  The price of her people could not be measured in dollars and cents, but if someone was rebuilding her facility she sure as hell would have been at the forefront.  This man was either a dick that didn’t give two shits, or lazy enough to make someone else take care of it for him.

 

Ahanu seemed to speak well of the liaison at least, Roderick, which would probably be the first fragile ego she would shatter within moments of stepping out of the vehicle.  Maybe her assistant had a hard-on for the guy, maybe he was just doing his job well enough that his boss felt he didn't need to be involved.  With the exception of her own people, and that big ass moose brother of hers from L.A., not one person on this planet made her cock a brow in appreciation.  Not even Ausar.  Old fart.  An absent Bakkhos boss trusting everything to an 'underling'?

 

There was a reason she didn’t deal with Bakkhos.  They spent to much time stroking their egos in the mirror. This trip was going to be as pleasant as drinking broken glass in shitty bourbon.  They annoyed her, more than the general population annoyed her.  She was a faceless enterprise that slid easily through 'their' world, and she was content watching from a distance.  There were no Sheut that she was aware of in their folds, so they were only something to be watched and not interfered with. Her own actions had given her a reason to interact.  It would either be a smooth relationship, where she could in no uncertain terms tell them to fuck off in their encroaching "possession" of her airfield compound, or she could make it worse.  She'd been watching the dogs try to piss on her fence.  Ahanu had been given the OK to shoot them the next time she saw them sniffing around.

 

The car slid to a stop, report set on the seat as the door opened.  It was deep  into dusk, the buildings' shadows helped, but the sky was still light enough to annoy her eyes.  Sunglasses slid on, she smoothed her effortless updo and the tiny vampire volcano stepped out.

 

“Wait in the car, take a nap,” a smile quirked one side of her lip, purposeful steps toward the suave liquor store.

 

Sunglasses slid off and into her inner pocket.  Hm.  They really weren’t doing a bad job. Last time she saw it she was ripping it apart to the smell of burning buildings and crushed glass mixed with booze, gas and radiator fluid.  Door opened, hands rested casually in her suitpant pockets as she perused the aisles briefly. Satisfied, she approached what she could assume was the front counter.

 

“Your big boss please. If you bring me Roderick I’ll send you back for his boss.  I’ll wait,” terse expression paused, then a taught smile flicked up the corners of her lips only to disappear as she went back to browsing.  She really didn't want to go to their 'headquarters' to drag people from their comfort zones, but she would if she had to.  That would definitely expedite a business relationship of some kind.

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The construction crew had gone for the night. The work being done was coming along rather quickly. Roderick was cleaning up the incidental dust and debris that would find its way into the store proper. It did no good to have sawdust marring the mahogany walls. Having done all the “hard work” for the day, Roderick was looking forward to a relaxing evening tending the counter and socializing with the patrons. When the petite woman entered the store, he smiled bright. Maybe tonight was going to be pleasant after all.

 

“Your big boss please. If you bring me Roderick I’ll send you back for his boss.  I’ll wait.”

 

His smile faded for a brief instant. Perhaps not. Then the smile returned, not the cheesy smile of a salesman, but the pleasant smile of someone who is genuinely…pleasant. This woman was all business, whoever she was. Best not to upset her, especially if Tom was expecting her.

 

Putting a hand on his chest, he replies, “I am Roderick. Mr. Gallo is downstairs…who should I say is asking for him?”

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 “I am Roderick. Mr. Gallo is downstairs…who should I say is asking for him?”

 

Head tilted slightly, studying the man, drawing the scents swirling around him quietly through her nose to linger on her palate.  He was tasty.  Eyes narrowed slightly as she swallowed, the construction dust was not.  It was not overly dusty, but she didn’t have the dulled senses of most people either.

 

Chest rose and fell with a relaxed sigh and a nod.

 

“Seems Roderick is already here.”

 

Smile did seem genuine.  Ahanu had spoken well of him, and she trusted Ahanu’s judgement, about to put it to the test.

 

“That saves some time and some bullshitting with chain of command ceremony.”

 

She really wanted to just walk downstairs.  Working through a buffer like Roderick was not something she wanted to do, but again she HAD destroyed the place so it was really their turf to manage.

 

“Eris London,” smile lingered on her lips briefly and then turned back into business.  Eris, tiny destroyer of other people’s shit in this case.  The tiny Tasmanian Devil, Toby had said to her once.  If she didn't love him like a brother she would have killed him for that.  She had no idea if Roderick knew it was actually her that threw the car, but she wasn’t going to offer that information either way.  “He’s not expecting me.  Ahanu sends her regards, she speaks highly of you.”

 

Something else though was bugging her, on the edge of her senses, darkly lined elegant eyes wandering over the shop.

 

“That’s a good place to be with me.”

 

Why lie?

 

She smiled again at him, more cat-that-ate-the-canary than anything as she moved away from the counter and continued to peruse with her hands casually in her pockets.

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Roderick’s brows quirked up slightly at hearing her name. Eris appeared to be everything that Ahanu had eluded to. Hints of mirth showed in his eyes as he finally put a face to the name. Ever the professional, Roderick did not let that look linger, lest he upset the ‘petite, volcanic, vixen’ as Ahanu had lovingly referred to her. Roderick subtly pushed a button under the counter while speaking to Eris. This would alert Tom that something important was going on. Not an alarm, but rather, something worthy of his personal attention.

 

“I appreciate her endorsement. I hope I manage to live up to it.” Humility oozed from Roderick. It was sincere; however, Eris could see plain as day that Roderick was no simple crony. “I let him know that you are here. Can I offer you a drink in the mean time?”

 

 

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Lashes lowered at him through a side glance, the brief tautness of her lower lids akin to ears sliding back on an attack dog.  Something had clicked the momentary expression trickling across his face at her name, and it spurred the need to speak with Ahanu when she returned to her airstrip.  What exactly Ahanu had been conversing about with –Roderick- while she was here representing the Viceroy?  Ahanu wasn’t one to speak of anything but business, curious.  Secrecy was how the Sheut stayed alive.  It had been  less than a second, features returning to their neutral.

 

Senses were always perked, but even more so now, her casual, slow perusal of their wares hiding her ‘hunt’ for silent information. He had her undivided veiled attention when so few others in this world did.  Most would admit that was either a bad thing, or a horrible thing.

 

“I appreciate her endorsement. I hope I manage to live up to it.”

 

He was adorable, sincere, but he was stalling… or maybe just being a good host.  For as charming as he was, she didn’t come here to speak with him.  She was about to lick out a ‘get on it then’ when he did it for her.

 

“I let him know that you are here. Can I offer you a drink in the mean time?”

 

Of course he had.  Sneaky, sneaky, sneaky little nibblet.

 

“Ron Zacapa XO,” she said rather absently, squinting at a bottle of rum on the shelf.  The color always reminded her of gasoline.  Fun stories from another life and time.  “If you have it I’ll buy the bottle.  My driver will settle the account… if you have it.”

 

It was a hard one to find, and she bought it whenever it popped up somewhere.  Central and South America were nearly obliterated, and there was next to no chance in the foreseeable future they would ever make it again.  Fond memories, or at the very least exciting ones.

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Roderick could sense that he was on the edge of danger. His good looks and charm can keep hostiles at bay, most of the time. This woman, however, was different. He silently applauded himself for hitting the button almost immediately. Roderick was the gatekeeper of sorts for Thyrsus…the sentry on duty. His poise and charisma was often all that was required for most patrons. Not this one. However, until Tom got in here, the show must go on.

 

“Ron Zacapa XO…yes, the rum is over here.” He gestured to one of the corners of the room. He glided over to the corner with nearly silent feet…as if his feet never did quite make contact with the ground. He gestured towards a shelf about four feet off the ground. There were two rows of Ron Zacapa XO, each about three bottles deep. “Any particular bottle catch your fancy, Ms. London?”

 

Just as the question was asked, the elevator door slid open and out walked Tom. His solid frame was draped in a Brunello Cucinelli charcoal suit. Unlike Roderick, the sound of his Fratelli Borgioli shoes striking the floor echoed across the room like small claps of thunder. He approached Eris and Roderick as he was asking Ms. London which particular bottle she might prefer. Roderick was a good find. A trusted lieutenant that didn’t need much guidance, and knew where permission was required. Loyal to a fault, he was. Tom was lucky.

 

“Ms. London,” Tom’s rich, baritone voice spoke. “I take it you have come to check on the reconstruction progress?” The sentence may have been a question, but his tone was not. Tom is generally a friendly man, however he doubted that Eris came by for a social call. Tom was making no attempt to be intimidating, that came naturally…just by being alive in the same room…however his look, demeanor, and tone said without words, ‘I am in control here. You are welcome here because I allow it.’

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“Ron Zacapa XO…yes, the rum is over here.”

 

The keen doe-eyes found the bottles Roderick gestured to, closing the distance with barely a whisper of fabric.

 

“Any particular bottle catch your fancy, Ms. London?”

 

She was quiet a moment, the sound of the elevator interrupting her special time.  Fingers lingered on a bottle, just the hint of a mischievous smile on her lip.  She hadn't seen this brand in years.

 

Seems the elevator had delivered Mr. Gallo… scent warmed on her palate as he approached.  Well well... wasn’t that a daisy… Now she was almost as intrigued as when she’d found that dragon several years ago.  Almost.  A Were?  Well then.  Had she killed one of these mother fuckers?  Yes.  Actually had a conversation with one?  No.  There was a first time for everything, anxious to find out if the odd little feeling of –you look human but you ain’t quite right- was mutual.  The doors she’d had to rip through to retrieve Mouse suddenly made more sense.

 

“I’ll take them all,” she said to Roderick and glanced up at Mr. Gallo finally.  Phone flipped out from an inside pocket to send Toby a quick message.  She was going to keep most, but the rest would be stocked into her planes.  “Mr. Lavoie will settle the account shortly.  Ahanu will pick them up at your leisure Roderick.”

 

“Ms. London, I take it you have come to check on the reconstruction progress?”

 

Phone disappeared swiftly, hands sliding elegantly into her pockets.  Dark lashes parted a bit more to focus on the giant, no qualms in the world about studying him in detail, or taking her time to do so.  Hell, everyone in this world was a giant to her really.  Even with the vintage designer heels on, she barely crossed five feet.  Somehow, she still made looking eye to eye with someone that towered over her seem effortless- probably because she didn’t give two shits if they lived another second or had a bullet between their eyes… but effortless nonetheless.  Intimidated also didn't exist in her vocabulary.  She'd punched the big moose of a Sheut Executioner in the arm before for pissing her off, everything else on Earth seemed to pale in comparison after you'd slugged the one person that could smite your ass.

 

“I haven’t heard the click of Borgioli’s in years,” voice was quiet, head cocking slightly.  "Truly well dressed men are rare these days."

 

She didn’t offer her hand, she hated shaking hands.  She hated touching anything in public if she could avoid it, a lingering habit from the front edge of the Resonance.  Eyes blinked softly, satisfied with the visual she had added to the name, taking a breath to almost regretfully get on with her business.  Why couldn't they just... drink?

 

“No,” she finally answered his question, looking across the rest of the shop.  “I don’t need to check up on anyone’s progress, least of all yours.  I'm not anyone's mother.”

 

It was a compliment, it really was.  She didn’t dance around the fact that he was going to do whatever the fuck he wanted with her money and she didn’t give a shit.

 

“I came to ask you personally if you needed anything else to make the inconvenience of this rebuild more palatable.”

 

…and to put a face to one of the names that kept getting spat out when her people caught Bakkhos ants crawling into her corner of the world.

 

“...and apparently to accidentally find something to stock my Cessna for the next decade,” the million dollar smile that really could light up her face did exactly that, fading to a more relaxed expression.  Time to see if Mr. Borgioli the beastie was half as articulate as her favorite dragon, and somewhat competent to boot.  "Family" organizations many times didn't put the brightest crayon in the box on top of the pile.  Ball was in his court.

 

"Is there anything else I can do for you?"

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Tom’s eyebrows furrowed slightly for a moment as he caught her scent. Something was…off. Based on the accounts of her ripping the doors off their hinges, she wasn’t simply human. It reminded him of Mythos a little bit. He’d have to ask him about her later. There was a long pause as the two sized each other up. She was beautiful. There was no question about it. If pride had a scent, you wouldn’t need to be a wolf to smell it. It radiated from her like light from the sun. She could be a real problem. She could also be a powerful ally. No doubt, she was conducting a similar analysis. This would be an interesting encounter.

 

"Truly well dressed men are rare these days."

 

She was immaculately dressed as well. No doubt that she was a person who always looked their best. He understood completely. “Indeed.” He recognized the compliment. She didn’t seem to be one overly concerned with formalities. This was refreshing…sometimes the ‘family’ became stodgy and overly-formal without ever saying anything. Nowhere near as bad as pre-Resonance corporate elites, but still…

 

“I don’t need to check up on anyone’s progress, least of all yours.  I'm not anyone's mother.”

 

Tom reached into his jacket and pulled some folded papers and handed them to Eris. “Perhaps you should.” He walked behind the counter that served as a bar as well. He produced two glasses and an open bottle of Ron Zacapa XO and poured two drinks. He nudged one in her direction as he took a sip from his own. Roderick had seemingly disappeared.

 

“You are overpaying your crew by about 30%. The foreman for the masons is skimming about 10% to put into his own pockets. Friday afternoons appear to be holidays for the welders. Also, apparently, they only need two out of every three workers, as the rest appear to be idle at any given time.” Tom was revealing a part of himself with that report. He was an efficient, nearly mechanical man when it came to business. Inefficiencies were personal offenses to him. Especially when they were so easily corrected.

 

“I came to ask you personally if you needed anything else to make the inconvenience of this rebuild more palatable.”

 

If he didn’t know better, he would have interpreted this as an attempt to appease the Bakkhos out of fear. However, this was obviously not the case. She wouldn’t have sauntered in here like this if she was afraid. Which led to the next obvious question…why was she here? Why was she doing this? During the chaos of the Blood Moon, no one would have known it was her. What did she want from the family for her cooperation? This was a question he would have to get answered…although a direct approach was not likely to be fruitful. He’d have to be careful.

 

“Despite the inefficiencies and thievery, construction appears to be going quite well, if a bit slower than I had hoped.” He took another sip from his drink. He too enjoyed this brand of rum. He looked into Eris’s eyes and raised his glass slightly toward her in a gesture of salute. “Now that we have finally met, I’d like to thank you personally for contributing to the rebuild. Many would have taken advantage of the chaos of the Blood Moon and vanished into the night.” He left the unspoken question of “Why?” hanging in the air.

 

He studied her closely now. His eyes were still friendly, but calculating. He was looking for any sort of tell. No. He was no incompetent beast. He was no thuggish brute. The Capo ring on his hand was not given to him in recognition of his strength or blind obedience…but rather his mind and loyalty. The Beast and all the physical gifts that came with it were add-ons…supplementing what made Tom truly dangerous…his mind.

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Shit.

 

Damn that tick. It was the tick she didn’t want to see.  The tell.  The brow furl.  The big frackin’ neon sign that the brute knew something was off.  Well, the big pups did have master snoots, but damn if it wasn’t an adorable snoot.  Bully for him.  Pure caged rage wrapped in Borgioli tastes.  It was intoxicating.  Another plus.  She’d put off investigating Bakkhos for too long. 

 

She didn’t take the paper right away… the petite Viceroy didn’t do paper reports, her brain could hold everything verbally.  Hand slid from her pocket to acquire it, placing it onto the counter without a second glance before returning to her pocket.  Attention was on the glass he poured, blink slow.  Last time a man poured her a glass of this, of anything for that matter, was a helluva long time ago.  He’d touched it, which by all means gave her no interest in taking it, but it was Zacapa- and she wanted it.  Not many had something she wanted.

 

Just as she went to reach for it, he started rattling on.  The heel of her hand set itself on the counter.  Buzzkill.  Hammers didn’t always hit the nail even if they had a lot of force, and he seemed to be a hammer.  He was a damn spirits connoisseur for Pete’s sake, even he should understand what it meant to appreciate it for a moment.  Attention stayed on the glass, disappointed, as she listened... somewhat.  Maybe she’d misread him.

 

“You are overpaying your crew by about 30%. The foreman for the masons is skimming about 10% to put into his own pockets. Friday afternoons appear to be holidays for the welders. Also, apparently, they only need two out of every three workers, as the rest appear to be idle at any given time.”

 

The smell of rum was enough to keep her interested.  She wanted it.  She wasn’t Gaspari and didn’t need a mechanical report spouted to her… well she did, but timing.  Timing was everything.  Christ, this was like smoking the cigarette before sex.  She wanted that damn glass, a second, a moment to breathe it in and enjoy it.

 

Fingers reached up from their stationary hand and touched the glass gently.  Just drink it, and all will be better…  slow intake of air preceded just that, eyes watching him a moment over the rim of the glass.  Tasted just like she remembered, low lashes for a moment and a soft exhale to swirl it over her senses.  The Sheut looked at it and nodded slightly in approval of the bottle.  It was what it said it was.

 

“Despite the inefficiencies and thievery, construction appears to be going quite well, if a bit slower than I had hoped.  Now that we have finally met, I’d like to thank you personally for contributing to the rebuild. Many would have taken advantage of the chaos of the Blood Moon and vanished into the night.”

 

Her brain was a steel trap, the two words she needed snatched from the other things that had interrupted her drink.  She’d heard what was required.  Made up for disturbing her drink in a way.  All about honesty.  Trust.

 

A perpetually coiled cobra beneath the cool façade turned their large chocolate irises back to him.  The sound of Toby’s hushed footsteps moved toward her, her attention shifting effortlessly from the brute to her charge, nodding once.  Toby handed her a thin leather executive portfolio, moving off to find Roderick.  Leather was set silently on the counter on top of his paper.

 

Nothing he’d said needed an answer.  She gave people the courtesy of speaking their mind, most of the time.

 

“Do the full moons frighten you, Thomas?”

 

Voice was almost inaudible, casting aside the Mr. and Ms. crap.  She picked up the glass again; swallow slow with the last slide of the amber liquid as she watched him.

 

Nostrils flared slightly as she breathed in his delicious crazy… she loved coiled rage, the single act of nonverbal communication enough for him to catch.  She knew what he was, she was aware he had ferreted out her unusual blood, and she wanted him to know that.  Toby’s presence was also intentional, he smelled like her; more of the same unknown beastie that could intelligently rip doors from hinges during even a Blood Moon- together in one place.  Either the tasty brute knew what her flavor of beastie was, or he didn’t, but her silent admittance that she wasn’t going to blow smoke up anyone’s ass cast aside any shreds of formality that were left.  She could, and would speak plainly.

 

“Steel doors. Panic rooms,” she contemplated quietly, looking at the light refraction in her glass.  “Weres never terrified me.  Never.  I don’t have steel doors.  Mouse called and said she was trapped.  It wasn’t the Weres that scared her, it was being trapped.  They very thing that was supposed to make her feel safe, didn’t.  I didn’t save her to save her life, I saved her because she deserved to make a choice when, how and if she died.  She refused to cower in a corner, and they trust me to give them the opportunity to find that strength.  It makes them fearless, they cannot control their circumstances, but they have total control of their fate.”  Glass lifted so she could scent it one last time.  THIS was what one spoke of over liquid memories.  “Once you cast aside the fear of death, you find everything in this lifetime becomes enjoyable, every minutia the opportunity to give you a sensation or an emotion you’ve never experienced before.” 

 

She even welcomed annoyance and anger; it forced people in split seconds to decide whether or not they gave a shit about someone. 

 

“Most people would have taken advantage of the Blood Moon chaos for a free pass to escape the wrath of Bakkhos because they fear you.”

 

There was so much more, she was such a complicated beast.

 

“I fear nothing, let alone taking responsibility for my actions.”

 

Empty glass clinked softly on the counter, gaze resting on the leather with a subtle cue it was his to take before shifting her eyes back to him.  His report, paper, her folder.  That’s what she used to do for a living.  Lived, breathed.  She couldn’t get away from it.  Learning ways that everyone she was after manipulated and stole from each other, it even permeating into the ranks of the DEA themselves. All for one purpose, to make more money than the other guy, or shut them down completely.  It was a constant chess game of power, betrayal, plotting, planning for one end alone.

 

To find who you could trust.

 

He’d caught the money, but she was still curious why he hadn’t fired them himself when he discovered the bullshit.  She was not in charge, or a contributor.  That was his position.  It was his business.  That was her end game.  Could she trust him when she handed over the money to not squeeze her for more.  She found him to be sharp, gracious.

 

“Thank you for not taking advantage of my responsibilities, that cash will take care of all your concerns.  The other annoyances are your purview.  It’s your money, not mine.  It ceased being mine the moment I chose to destroy your property,” warm rum rich hum of her voice was still below conversational level.  “But you’re too kind, I hope not for the sake of offending me.  I don't get offended.  If they displease you, fire them.”

 

Toby’s footsteps out the door lit up her face as she watched him leave.  If anything, that was her tell.  She truly thought of her people as family.  They made her happy.  She was proud of their strength, the progress from where she'd found them.  Toby, hunted by the Sheut for being an orphan.  Mouse, cowering in a flop house in what was left of Detroit.  Ahanu, almost on her deathbed.

 

She contemplated taking the next step she’d saved for another day.  Addressing the Bakkhos sniffing around her compound like they owned the lot.

 

 “I now know I can trust you.  I could learn to like you.  You're interesting when so few people are.”

 

That was the closest she ever got to a compliment.

 

“Pour me another drink and we can talk about the weather, and who does your tailoring.”

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Eris’s whole demeanor was interesting to behold. When he poured the glass, it was as if she were an addict with her first view of her addiction in years. Then she stopped…as if suddenly repulsed by it. Finally, she hesitantly grabbed at it and sipped and enjoyed. Did she think he intended to poison her? Maybe she was an addict? But then she appeared to reign in whatever chaos was going on in her head and regained her calm demeanor. There was a whole lot of crazy in there. He knew a bit about that…

 

When Toby came in and out, he caught his scent too…more of the same. Yes. He would have to speak to Mythos next time he was in town…whenever that was. She seemed to ignore his findings regarding the money. Just as well…some with ample resources didn’t take care to see how much was flowing in and out as long as it was there. This report was a courtesy to her, after all. She could take it and do with it as she pleased.

 

Does the full moon frighten you, Thomas?

 

Well…that’s one less talking point to be careful about. Either she knew ahead of time, or…as his wife was fond of saying when she sniffed out a new deodorant or cologne…’her nose knows’. He stared at her a long moment, noting how she was taking him in like he was a work of art…or a zoo animal. Nevertheless, this encounter was going to be far more complicated and intricate than a simple business dealing. This far away from the full moon, Tom was at his most calm. He was more able to think, pivot and calculate a response. In a couple weeks, he’d be more prone to simply react…and damage control later.

 

Tom grinned slightly. Might as well get this conversation out of the way now. “The sun has always controlled life on Earth. In light of the events of the past few years…the moon gets to play with me too.” He finished his drink and began to pour another for them both. She wanted to cut right to the chase it seemed. He wasn’t sure if she was scouting for some purpose, or just learning about what has become a new part of her life recently.

 

After Eris mentioned Mouse, Tom silently raised a glass in honor of her bravery. She had accidentally wandered into one of the safest traps in the city. The steel walls and doors were intended to keep unwanted people out. However, as will all walls and most doors…it works the other way too. He did not share her desire to feel every emotion that you could. A good portion of his effort is in keeping the emotions he does feel in check. He felt that he didn’t have the luxury to open himself up to new ones while being constantly on guard for the familiar ones.

 

“Most people would have taken advantage of the Blood Moon chaos for a free pass to escape the wrath of Bakkhos because they fear you.”

“I fear nothing, let alone taking responsibility for my actions.”

 

Posturing again. It felt like it at least. She was right, most people had the sense to not anger the Bakkhos if it were avoidable. Those that did, were reminded why they shouldn’t. Eris was making a show of demonstrating that she wasn’t. Why? It is clear that she certainly possessed more than enough pride to make such a statement…however she was too clever to do something that as well. Did she think the family had it out for her already and this was her way to make amends? He’d have to ask some questions.

 

“Fear and prudence are often mistaken for one another.” Tom began. “You don’t pet a viper, nor swim with sharks…not because of fear. You avoid these things because it would not be prudent to do so.”

 

Subtle, verbal posturing was not above him either. It appeared that she was testing. Is Tom a doormat? Is Tom an idiot? Is Tom reasonable? Is Tom a monster? Maybe an answer to one or two of these questions was in order.

 

He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Partly in an effort to see if there were other scents he could catch that might not have been made known to him as yet. Tom hated surprises. He was also giving the illusion of a meditative breath. No doubt, she expected barely contained wrath. Truth was…this was as calm as he got during the month. Some wolves crescendo at the full moon and dramatically rescind back into a weak, calmer human state and begin the slow buildup to the next moon. Tom’s ‘were-seasons’ mimicked the moon phase. Immediately after a full moon, Tom was still very agitated and very close to full on monster-wolf. His innate rage would wax and wane with the moon. He finished his second drink, perhaps a bit too quickly and half smile, half glower looked her in her eyes.

 

“Everyone is afraid of something. That is a lie you tell yourself. Not letting fear control you doesn’t dismiss the presence of that fear.” This was simple truth. A person without fear wasn’t a person. They weren’t real. Eris was a brave woman, no doubt. A lot of pain…

 

“Thank you for not taking advantage of my responsibilities, that cash will take care of all your concerns.  The other annoyances are your purview.  It’s your money, not mine.  It ceased being mine the moment I chose to destroy your property,” warm rum rich hum of her voice was still below conversational level.  “But you’re too kind, I hope not for the sake of offending me.  I don't get offended.  If they displease you, fire them.”

 

“You showed such integrity to disclose how the building became damaged. You earned my respect.” He nodded slightly, indicating sincerity. He was sincere. Too many in the family and others in positions of power feel the need to bend the will of those around them…or crush them under their thumb. Those who serve under Tom weren’t subjected to that type of ‘leadership.’ Discretion is key, however it was rarely a mystery how Tom felt about something. Tom wasn’t a sleazy, scheming, conniving, leach of a person. His being Bakkhos wasn’t a statement of his character because he’s technically a criminal. His morals and sense of right and wrong don’t always align with the current laws on the books.

 

“I now know I can trust you.  I could learn to like you.  You're interesting when so few people are.”

 

There was that art exhibit or zoo animal feeling again. Did she have such disdain for so many people that finding a civilized werewolf is the only kind of thrill she can find with people anymore? No matter. It was time to see how comfortable she was at being truly introspective. Senses on alert, he placed the half-empty bottle of rum between them, a silent question of whether she wanted another glass. Leaning forward with his hands resting on the polished teak bar-top, he said,

 

“What about you allows you to rip steel doors from their hinges and saunter into a Bakkhos stronghold proclaiming from within the walls that ‘You fear nothing’?” It was evident that he didn’t believe her bravado was genuine. Not all of it at least.

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Large pupils widened slightly as he stared, her comment about the moon a well-placed one apparently.  If he was observant enough, he could see straight through her.  What an interesting challenge for once.  It was like watching whether or not an elegant predator was going to rip something’s throat out, or walk away.  When he grinned, her lips turned up slightly.  He could walk away when provoked.  Curious.  So tightly coiled she could almost feel it across the table.

 

“The sun has always controlled life on Earth. In light of the events of the past few years…the moon gets to play with me too.”

 

“I’m truly jealous.”

 

It was the truth.  The sun still had total control over her at least most of the time.  As daredevil as she was, her Mouse was an innovator that allowed her to conquer it sometimes when she flew.  Special glass, visors.  Still, she hated when something had a hold on her.

 

It was as if on cue, he toasted to her charges.

 

“Mouse is one of the best techies still alive.  If you need anything retrofitted on your new doors, she’s your girl.”

 

She did fail to mention the girl was also a magus tech whisperer, but if it became relevant it would be no secret.  It was a development that she could perhaps actually trust the man, but she still trusted her people more.  It wasn’t just a ‘if you need some help’ suggestion.  Mouse could also pull anything, out of anything.  Useful, if needed.

 

“Fear and prudence are often mistaken for one another.  You don’t pet a viper, nor swim with sharks…not because of fear. You avoid these things because it would not be prudent to do so.”

 

That brought a laugh, the glitter of it so rare it was questionable the world had ever heard it. Indeed it often hadn’t.  It was quiet, melodic, face following suit to create an expression that truly lit up her features.

 

“I pet vipers and swim with sharks Thomas.  I rather like it.”

 

Lip curled up in a Grinch-like smirk as she took another drink.

 

“You might too.”

 

She watched the momentary meditation, wishing she could feel the vibration under his skin that was so carefully contained.  The smile faded to a contemplating expression, waiting for more.

 

“Everyone is afraid of something.”

 

“Are they now…”

 

“That is a lie you tell yourself.”

 

Again the laugh, he was brilliant.  Really.  He was so eager to be careful, and proper, and in control.

 

“Not letting fear control you doesn’t dismiss the presence of that fear.”

 

She let it hang a moment.  He seemed to truly believe it.

 

“I kill things I should fear.” the confession was dark, voice rum rich as her thumb lingered on her lower lip before taking another drink.  The silence was long, pupils shifting larger again. It gave the illusion her irises were black.  “Being fearless is accepting the fact that you can’t control anything.  Control is an illusion we tell ourselves so we can ignore the fact we’re monsters.”

 

Again the silence, she was watching him closely.  She liked him.

   

“What about you allows you to rip steel doors from their hinges and saunter into a Bakkhos stronghold proclaiming from within the walls that ‘You fear nothing’?”

 

There was that inevitable banking on Bakkhos reputation to silence a thunderstorm.  An icy stillness brought the air around her to a halt, almost if she didn’t have to breathe, or blink.  Voice lowered to an almost inaudible level.

 

“Ever wonder what it feels like to live without walls Thomas?  Rules?  A façade?  To truly do what your impulses tell you to instead of being trapped in your skin… not afraid of hurting anyone or anything.  When you allow yourself to have that, I want to meet that part of Thomas Gallo too.”

 

Last drink from her glass was enjoyed.

 

“I’m the thing that won’t run,"  lips pursed, blink slow.  "That appreciates what you are at face value, that the vipers and sharks don't have to be afraid of hurting."

 

It was vague, and telling.  Something the general public didn’t know existed, but deep circles in Bakkhos probably did.  She wanted to know how deep, and was pretty sure it ran deeper than him.  He would have to ask the right questions, to the right people for that answer.  He needed to work harder than a glass of XO to get it from her.  She took the audacity to pour herself one more.  There was still more business to cover.  Brow quirked slightly, she was bemusedly insulted at the other facet of his question.

 

“In all fairness it was a car.  I threw a car.”  Finger tapped the glass as it lifted, “buckled the doors.  Then ripped them off.  Almost hit Mr. Carducci, I must apologize to him for that when I get a chance.”

 

Glass clinked on the counter softly and she rolled her lower lip through her teeth, pulling off the lingering taste.

 

“That’s all you’re going to get I’m afraid.  Maybe we can meet again over dinner in a few weeks… and you can see the rest for yourself.”

 

Brow quirked, then relaxed.  She knew exactly when that would fall in the lunar cycle.  There were other ways to get her to talk too, a good lead on a vintage pair of oxblood red t-strap Louboutins was one of them, but a good old fashioned close to the full moon encounter would suffice.

 

Time for business.

 

“My turn.  Why would Bakkhos be interested in casing the blocks around my airstrip?  Sent several on their way a few days ago.  Perhaps you could point me in the direction of who I should talk to about that.”

 

It was to the point, and suddenly clear who owned the sharply cared for compound surrounded in razor wire on the shore south of Manhattan.

 

"Last time I checked, there were no Bakkhos in my compound for someone to come in and save."

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What is with this woman? Tom thought to himself. Tom had met similar people…those who never ‘feel truly alive’ unless they were in some kind of perceived danger. Eris appeared to be one of those. Wonderful…

 

Tom’s reputation among the Bakkhos was two-fold. On one hand, he is regarded as a genuine, sincere, and fiercely loyal member of the family. On the other, he is feared as an immutable force of nature should someone find themselves on his bad side. Because of this, Tom had become accustomed to people either running to him with good cheer…or steering clear of him when they knew he was displeased with them. He was particularly fond of that, but it was a useful tool, and one he kept at the ready. Eris, however, didn’t seem to be operating with the same playbook. She courted danger. She wanted the thrill of uncertainty. Why?

 

“I pet vipers and swim with sharks Thomas.  I rather like it. You might too.”

 

Part of him did. In Tom’s conversations with Victor, Victor never mentioned an increasing desire to or anticipation for the change. Tom almost looked forward to it now. It was dreadfully inconvenient, and going into that box…Victor must be a man possessed of stronger personal discipline to routinely go into his box each month. Or else he was a champion of hiding his disdain. When Tom went upstate for the change…it was always…refreshing. He had always viewed that as a compromise. He allowed the beast an outlet so that he was in more control during the day to day. That was what he was hoping for at least. He wasn’t so sure these days.

 

“I kill things I should fear. Being fearless is accepting the fact that you can’t control anything.  Control is an illusion we tell ourselves so we can ignore the fact we’re monsters.”

 

Tom chuckled softly. This was a philosophical point that they were likely to always disagree upon. “People kill spiders because they fear them. Tyrants kill groups of people because they fear them. Being willing to conquer your fears doesn’t always dismiss them. It, in fact, proves fear’s presence.” Tom took another drink from his glass, noting that she too truly believed what she said. “Oh, we are monsters. Control is not an illusion so much as an unattainable goal…but we try. I know what the consequences are if I forego control and just sit pleasantly in Club Bakkhos when the full moon rises.” His expression turned grim. “I am not willing to do that.”

 

“I’m the thing that won’t run, that appreciates what you are at face value, that the vipers and sharks don't have to be afraid of hurting."

 

He walked from behind the bar to take a seat closer to Eris. Resting his elbow on the wood his face darkened…voice a soft, deep whisper. “Because people like you won’t run…I must. Vipers, sharks…wolves…they aren’t afraid of hurting. Predators are pragmatic. Simple. They see prey and threats. From what I’ve seen…they both meet the same fate.”

 

Her timing couldn’t have been better to be so bold. Had this conversation happened two weeks ago, or later…it’d have likely gone sideways much earlier.

 

“That’s all you’re going to get I’m afraid.  Maybe we can meet again over dinner in a few weeks… and you can see the rest for yourself.”

 

Never mind. She was courting danger. She wanted to see Tom on the brink of a frenzied, blood-thirsty rage. Foolishness.

 

“My turn.  Why would Bakkhos be interested in casing the blocks around my airstrip?  Sent several on their way a few days ago.  Perhaps you could point me in the direction of who I should talk to about that. Last time I checked, there were no Bakkhos in my compound for someone to come in and save."

 

The timing of this conversation worked out for him too. Had this question been posed two weeks ago…yeah. Good thing it didn’t. Switching back to business was a welcome change. So that's who owned that airstrip. He could use this. He sat up straighter and appeared to visibly relax. His voice, lighter than earlier. “I am not entirely sure who has interests over there off the top of my head. I would suggest speaking to Matteo if you are truly curious.”

 

The snap back to the practical was welcome. Control, while not always easy…or even attainable…was no illusion. He must not let himself believe that.

 

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“People kill spiders because they fear them. Tyrants kill groups of people because they fear them. Being willing to conquer your fears doesn’t always dismiss them. It, in fact, proves fear’s presence.”

 

Her quiet chuckle was warm.

 

“We’re back to that fear obsession again.”

 

Words were very quiet, knuckle caressing the edge of the glass while she watched it refract.

 

“Oh, we are monsters. Control is not an illusion so much as an unattainable goal…but we try. I know what the consequences are if I forego control and just sit pleasantly in Club Bakkhos when the full moon rises.”

 

“It is the ultimate obtainable unobtainable goal,” this time almost inaudible.

 

“I am not willing to do that.”

 

"Then don't."

 

It was vague which part she was referring to, sitting pleasantly, or being at club Bakkhos while the change happened.  She wasn't going to elaborate anyway.  Fear was a lie. 

 

"The very notion of fear is a lie, Thomas.  I used the word because it's what people know.  It's a common understanding catch all term to deflect the reality of extreme emotion people don't want to admit exists within them." 

 

She didn't deflect, and he seemed strong enough he didn't need to either but still for some reason clung to that word.  He seemed ready to move beyond it.  Needed to come to peace with it.

 

"I admit freely that you absolutely intrigue me, far beyond what is probably wise.  I want to know more about you.  That translates in the vernacular to fearless. I know now you obviously understand far beyond the term, so you can understand I don't 'fear' you.  I just have the patience and personal knowledge of my limits to learn more about you.  I feel like you don't fear hurting others, you know you can and care too much not to keep them safe."

 

There was a granule in her that liked him, and that was saying a lot.  A handful of people in the world she would die for, the rest could fall off a cliff and she wouldn’t even look their way.  He was more willing to toss himself to the uncertainties of the wilderness and its predator dangers once a month than hurt those he cared about.  She very much doubted it was for the vanity of not wanting to be seen that way.

 

But, he could very well sit in Bakkhos when the full moon rose; only there was no one strong enough in his circle to prevent him from his inevitable violence.  There was always someone strong enough.  Always.  One that had saved her, that she had ultimately surpassed to save. 

 

“Because people like you won’t run…I must. Vipers, sharks…wolves…they aren’t afraid of hurting. Predators are pragmatic. Simple. They see prey and threats. From what I’ve seen…they both meet the same fate.”

 

Your fate was really the only thing you could control, but most hadn’t the courage to figure it out or take the leap.

 

Eyes had remained on that minute contact where the side of her finger touched glass, feeling the air move around him when he came closer.  The kinetic vibration from his skin was so much more amplified from this distance, the timbre of his voice changing as if innately he almost knew his presence and force of speech had a tolerable equilibrium.  Most others probably felt it as a force of nature, intimidating.

 

Not her.

 

More curiosity.

 

It pressed against her senses like the air in a heated room without movement, eyes closed a moment, reopening on him with a weight through the ethos that pushed back.  She watched him for a moment, noting the inclusions in the color of his eyes from this vantage point.  Tiny galaxies.  Everyone’s were.  A fingerprint into their psyche.  Hers had always been so dark, black even… the effect striking an appearance of innocence of one who was most definitely not.

 

Normally, if someone had taken the liberty to get this close to her on their own, she’d be ripping them apart right about now.  He knew something was off about her, but still he’d decidedly moved closer.  It was either a curiosity, a threat, a need just to intimidate, perhaps just all of the above.

 

Interesting.

 

“I’m not one you have to worry about,” she finally said.  “There are no people like me.”

 

Even in her own kind, there were none like her.  She was incredibly complicated and so simple a puzzle at the same time.  She was riding the Sheut line with her words, but she had always done that.  So much more was learned at the line than behind the safety of the fence.  Besides, she needed to catch up with the big Moose and his genius other half anyway, this was a great way to send some alarm bells to the Executioner and she could back-trace the leak from there.  She still needed to know how deep the knowledge of her kind went in his circles.  That was probably not going to happen in his conversation.  Later then.

 

“I am not entirely sure who has interests over there off the top of my head. I would suggest speaking to Matteo if you are truly curious.”

 

“My ‘truly curious’ stems from the courtesy not to shoot on sight,” eyes blinked softly.  He’d switched back to business; she was reluctantly dragging herself in that direction.  She wanted to see more non-business, but alas…  “Reliable overheard street chatter spoke of Bakkhos.  I will speak with Mr. Carducci first.  If they’re Bakkhos, out of respect they’re safe until then, unless they wander in.”

 

She reached into her inner pocket and pulled out a card, placing it on top of the leather portfolio that contained enough currency to finish his project in whatever way he saw fit.  Mouse had seen to that.  The money she’d skimmed was the money she’d put in anyway.  He didn’t need to know that, he’d figure it out eventually.

 

“And the interest would be my planes.  I have aircraft nobody does.  It's a commodity people want to take from me.  Forcibly as of late."

 

She paused a moment.  Curiosity.

 

"If you need transportation for business, that’s my direct cell.  I fly anywhere, even England.  If you don’t have any business and just want to fly, give me a call.”

 

Soft sigh left her to slide her hands into her suit pockets and straighten to leave, still at that proximity that made her intrigued senses buzz but her trigger finger itch.  That thick air around him that screamed of intimidation, she refused to let it permeate her own.  Hers was nothing to do with being a Sheut, it was the human in her that was stronger than anything the virus had ever made her.  Grit.  It had molded the visceral fortitude of a bullied brace-faced, tiny, savant girl into an absolute unmovable rock of a Sheut leader.  The virus wasn’t the part people really needed to worry about.

 

“There’s a silence up there that no longer exists down here,” voice was quiet.  “a controlled chaos.  Going up later if you’re interested, just because.”

 

Smile was slight, no way in hell he would but it would be interesting to see him out of his element if he did.

 

“Thank you Mr. Gallo, for everything,” she nodded.  Toby was already moving toward her to escort her back to the car.  His shadow capability was top notch.  “It’s been a pleasure.  If there’s anything I can do to make this remodel easier, don’t hesitate.  That number is twenty four hours, I answer it personally.”

 

Granted it sounded more elite of a number than it actually was, she didn’t need to sleep.  He didn’t need to know that either.

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