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Generated: Jun 24, 2019 1:17 PM
Post last updated: Jun 24, 2019 1:17 PM
the same rain that draws you near me
Jaime discovers a masquerade.
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Jaime has always admired storms. 

The drops of rain, pounding delicately on glass. The darkness and silence, punctuated by sharp crackles of light and growling  songs of thunder. The leaves, liberated, dancing free from their masters. The water, running, always running, for days and days later - running from what, she doesn’t know. What could frighten water?

She’d imagined lions, made of strange electricity, plummeting to earth in snaps of lightning and roaring with their frustration. She’d imagined great eels, writhing and sizzling, and invisible elephants, and creatures made entirely of teeth and eyes and bone. She’d imagined something that could make water tremble, and quake, and pound on windows, begging for entrance into inhospitable homes.

She’d imagined something that could make water afraid.

She had admired it. She had imagined it dancing, wildly, strangely, and danced alongside it. 

But she is, at this point, thoroughly annoyed by the weather, abstract admiration or no.

It had started out as a drizzle, and, as drizzles do, it had progressed to a downpour. The downpour had sniffled, wheezed, drawn in breath, and eventually started sneezing out lightning. The trees, annoyed, had started wildly thrashing around, like toddlers flailing toys; the wind, offended, had begun howling and blowing her around like it thought she was a candle on its birthday cake.

She’s hoping to find shelter for the night, but at this point she isn’t holding out much hope.

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Well, she might see a light in the distance if she looks in the right direction. It's not terribly bright, but it's definitely too constant to be lightning or her imagination.

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How considerate of it.

She starts walking in its direction, as briskly as she can manage, suitcase rolling bumpily behind her.

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As she approaches, the light turns into several, and a building comes into view.  It looks like someone took a castle and tried to turn parts of it into something more sleek and modern; the perceived tastefulness of the result probably varies pretty wildly person-to-person.  There's a low wall marking out a wide distance around the building itself; she could almost certainly jump it if she wanted to.  Or, there's a gate near what she might assume is the main entrance, but it's on the opposite side from where she's approaching.

The most visible lights are at the two entrances, but it looks like there might be some on behind some of the curtains on the ground floor, too.

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Jaime doesn’t normally approve of mixed architectural styles, or trespassing, but this is a special occasion.

She throws her luggage over the wall, jumps it, resumes towing her luggage, and knocks on the nearest door.

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It takes quite a while for someone to come to the door; it's a big house, and with the rain pelting outside it's not clear that her knocking would even be audible from anywhere but the closest few rooms.  But eventually, the door unlocks and opens.  The person who opens it looks deeply concerned for just a moment but relaxes visibly when she gets a look at Jaime.  She's wearing something that's definitely too fancy to be pajamas.

".....Hello?"

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“Hello,” says the incredibly damp woman on her doorstep. “I’m having a bad night - got caught up in the storm, saw your whatever-this-is, decided to try my luck. May I come in?”

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"Oh, of course - come on in," she says, stepping aside to let her into the foyer.

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She steps inside.

“Thanks.”

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"It isn't any trouble!"  She reaches into the upper shelf of a closet and pulls out some towels, hands them over.  "Would you like something to drink?  You must be freezing; I can get something warm for you.  Or, if you're hungry I'm sure we could whip something up, or if you just want to go to bed, we've got guest rooms; those are definitely available."

She gives the impression of someone who is normally a perfectly charming hostess, but is too thrown off by the situation to succeed at that right now.

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Jaime accepts the towels, and starts gracefully using them to become slightly less ridiculously damp.

“I’d appreciate a guest room and a drink.”

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Oh, good, a script she can follow.  "Sure!  We've got hot chocolate, tea, apple cider, coffee, and water and milk, of course."

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”Cider. Thank you for your hospitality.”

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"Again, it's really no trouble.  I'm just glad you stumbled across us!  You can just hang your coat up right here, and then the kitchen is this way."  One of the rooms they pass by on the way there has someone in it, sitting on a couch and looking contemplative.  If she notices them go by, she doesn't react.

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Neither does Jaime. Visibly, at least.

She devotes some attention to scrutinizing the decor.

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It's just as anachronistic as the outside - maybe moreso.  There's pretty clearly two distinct themes, which work together better in some places than in others.  Most of the rooms are devoted to one aesthetic or the other, but there's a few where they're mixed: a sitting room with burgundy velvet furniture and heavy black curtains but also a big, glossy tv and an abstract geometric glass sculpture; a bathroom that would be completely normal, if very fancy, but for the ornate and clearly very old silver-framed mirror above the sink.  On the whole, there are definitely more of the castle-themed rooms than modern ones.

The kitchen, when they get there, is one of the more thoroughly-mixed rooms; everything that's purely decorative is in the older style, but all the appliances and countertops are sleek chrome and polished granite.  Still, it's by far the most cohesive of the rooms that don't just stick to a theme.  The counters are a charcoal grey, and the patterns in the curtains are more boldly geometric than the intricate, lacy designs she's seen in other rooms.

There are (cushioned, iron-wrought) stools around the island that Hana gestures to before grabbing the cider out of the fridge, pouring it into a pot, and heating it up on the stovetop.  "So, I didn't catch your name," she says, dropping a mesh bag containing some spices and a stick of cinnamon in the pot.

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“Jaime,” she says, pronouncing it something more like ‘Zhame’. 

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"Oh, pretty!  I'm Hana.  Will you be okay here if I go check on my girlfriend for a moment?"

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“I won’t dissolve into a puddle from the lack of company. Go ahead.”

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"Oh, good."

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When Hana comes back, the person who they passed on the couch earlier is with her.  Jaime probably won't notice that she has a flannel on now, when before she only had a t-shirt, but she is definitely dressed way less fancily than the other resident of this...house?  Castle?  Mansion?

"Hey, I'm Ari.  Nice to meet you."

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“I’m not a fan of the surrounding circumstance of our meeting, honestly, but you seem like pleasant people. Have you been together long?”

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Oh good, she likes them.  Ari didn't have the importance of the art of hospitality drilled into her to the probably-excessive degree that Hana has, but she's willing to acknowledge that, even if she doesn't actually consider it likely that they're hosting a disguised enchantress here to test their moral character, it seems prudent to stay on the good side of any mysterious stranger who shows up on your doorstep in the middle of a dark and stormy night.

"Not really, just two months.  Although we were friends for a while before that."

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"We actually went to the same school for a year in middle school, but we didn't keep in touch or anything after."

"Yeah, she was a super annoying sixth grader, and I was an edgy, misanthropic one.  We get along much better nowadays."

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“I remember middle school as a vividly dull, unaccountably long dream. I dance, now, and it’s much less tedious. What do you do?”

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"Wow, professionally or as a hobby?  That's really cool either way.  What style do you do?"

Is she avoiding the question? Maybe.  Is she very genuinely interested in the subject separately from that?  Definitely.

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Jaime notices this conspicuous evasion. Perhaps they’re unusually nice drug dealers; it would explain the house.

“Professionally; I prefer ballet, but I dabble.”

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"Nice!  I actually started taking lessons on-and-off a few years ago, but I'm not really any good.  I'd love to be able to devote more time to it someday."

The cider is by this point steaming gently; Hana gets out some mugs and a ladle and serves it.

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Jaime has never heated a drink outside of a microwave in her life. It takes all kinds.

“It isn’t everyone’s cup of... cider,” she says, with a strange quirk of her lips, accepting a mug. “What do you spend most of your time on?”

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This gets a gentle sporfle from Hana.  Pity that she's definitely not going to be able to dodge that question twice, though.  "Lots of things!  I play the flute and a little piano and draw and sing soprano and hike sometimes.  I ski when that's seasonally appropriate.  And do ballet, as mentioned."

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"I did a bunch of odd jobs for a while, re-met Hana while I was house-sitting for her aunt.  Now I just sort of hang here and help out with random - ow," she says, having hit her forearm on the edge of the counter in the midst of a gesture.  If not for her response, one probably wouldn't guess that it caused her pain; it was really more of a brush than a hit per se.  And is that a stain on her sleeve?  But she continues: " - help out with random stuff.  I'm basically just her emotional support girlfriend, I guess."  She laughs a bit.  Whose arm is bleeding?  Definitely not hers, no sir.

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That’s... mildly concerning. And wasn’t she wearing a different shirt? - it’s probably a sex thing or a they’re-secretly-drug-dealers thing.

“Old money?” she inquires, in Hana’s general direction.

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"Not me personally; it's my aunt.  My stay here is actually contingent on doing all those things, but I figure it's probably better than having to get a real job."

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"People who refute the fact that they're old money by pointing out that, instead, a close relative who's sponsoring them is old money - are, in fact, old money. Social class and resources and quality of life, not financial independence. I understand the distinction you're trying to draw, and that it seems meaningful to you, but explicitly drawing it makes you sound out of touch and ignorant."

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"Oh."

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"...They're not actually related, if that makes a difference.  By bl - biologically, or through marriage.  They just use the term because it's awkward to say, "the lady who adopted me at random when I was fifteen, who now hosts me in her ridiculous house in exchange for me having high-status hobbies, and who I'm definitely not close enough to to call 'mom.'"  ....Also their social circle is just super weird with family terms in general."

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Sip, sip, yep these people sure do have ties to organized crime, sip, sip.

”That explanation makes me less likely to think you’re out of touch and ignorant. You’ll still want to change the phrasing that led up to it, if you don’t want to use it every time this comes up.”

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"The circumstances are a little unusual; I don't usually have people asking that directly.  But I guess I'll keep it in mind."

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“Do. Although I’ve been told that I’m unusually blunt. What do you draw?”

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"Figure drawing, mostly, and some landscapes.  When I have free time I like to do dense patterny things, like, hm - I guess you could call it paisley, maybe?  Just doodles."  As an afterthought: "More cider?  Or would you prefer to get to bed?  Oh, and I forgot to mention, do you want to borrow some dry clothes?  I'm sure we have something around that'll fit you."

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“I’ve seen enough fluid for the day, and too little darkness. And I can sleep in the nude.”

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"...As you prefer.  Would you like to be on the ground floor or one of - "

At this point, Ari, who was choosing cider over sleep, spills some of it on the hand holding her mug.  It's not very hot, but it's enough to be startling and she jerks back a bit -

And like the last light in a dark house being flicked off for the night, Hana's face - changes.  All at once, her features are sharper, more dramatic; her skin is ashen, looks like it's lit in blue instead of the warm light of the kitchen's chandelier; are those fangs -

The two residents look at each other in panic for a few seconds and then, just as suddenly, she's back to how she was.

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- don’t show visible alarm -

- one too many surprising things nothing about this situation makes sense -

- potential danger level: high -

- assess your resources trust your gut pretend like you know what’s going on act decisively -

She takes one last long, slow sip of cider, heart thumping in her chest, and raises an eyebrow.

“You can drop the mask.”

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aaaaaaaa

This is super not gonna work, but Hana's not going to say anything and Ari doesn't have any better ideas.  If you can't solve the problem, ignore it; that's worked out...passably for her in the past.  "Welp, good night!  I'm gonna go run this under some cold water, but Hana'll show you to a spare room and I'll see you in the morning!"

Oh, wait, maybe she can make this work.
Jaime feels a little more tired than she did a second ago.

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Jaime droops, for a moment, and -

That’s strange, normally she can manage ten hour recitals without getting this worn down, one time she went without sleep for three days and remained basically coherent, if much less so than normal - what was she thinking about again -

She delicately raises her left arm to her mouth, and bites it. Just barely not hard enough to draw blood.

Better.

“No.”

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Okay yeah that was a terrible idea; she stops. She needs to come up with a plan pretty quickly, but she probably has enough time to at least ask herself whether each new idea is terrible. Continuing to fake obliviousness: yes. Running from the room: yes. Kicking her out and letting her spend the rest of the night in the rain: very yes, why this, brain, jesus. Apologizing: could go wrong in a number of ways, but not in itself awful. Standing in silence for any longer: yes.

"Sorry."

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“Minimal use of mind control is... decent. Apologies are nice. Explanations are much moreso.”

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Hana has been staying as still as she can.  The illusion is a small but constant drain on Ari's available magic, and they haven't proven that it takes more oomph to maintain animated and complex illusions but it seems likely.  It also seems like having as much power between them as possible right now is a good idea, even if she really hopes it won't be necessary to use it.

Eventually, it's clear that Jaime isn't walking away from this conversation without at least an overview of certain facts, and Hana drops her part of the illusion.  Nothing about her appearance actually changes; Ari's covering that half, but it's much less believable without the aura she was projecting.

"Maybe this would be a conversation better had in one of the sitting rooms; it might take a while," she says, beginning to walk toward one of the ones without any modern furnishings.  "What do you know already?"

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Jaime stands up, and follows.

“Let’s pretend that I know nothing, and build from there.”

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Ari drops the visible part of the illusion once she notices Hana's half isn't up anymore.  They sit next to each other on a couch that's facing a few matching chairs.  Once they're settled in, Hana says, "So, vampires exist."

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Jaime declines to be visibly surprised.

”How interesting. Do go on.”

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It's really weird how she keeps apparently taking all this at face value and not even acting like it's anything to blink at but okay.  "I'm one; Ari isn't.  The drinking of blood gives a certain amount of ability to use magic to both parties, although in different ways.  I'm not actually that different from a standard human other than that ability; everything different about me had to be done manually with that magic."

"That's the really basic stuff; it might help if you ask questions from here on out, just cause there's kind of a lot and it's hard to structure what order to tell it in," adds Ari.

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Jaime sighs.

”For future reference, if someone else acts like I just did, they’re trying to make you unclear on their level of background knowledge so you’ll hesitate to deceive them. I’m too tired to execute that strategy well, so I’ll drop it. What can magic do in theory, what is it mostly used for in practice, why didn’t I know about it before, can I learn it, should I learn it.”

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"Good to know, I guess?" Ari says, clearly having not noticed her girlfriend's confusion at Jaime's reactions or her shift to understanding on hearing the explanation.  "Anyway, magic can do all sorts of things.  As far as we know - and by we I mean anyone, not just specifically the two of us - it only affects living things, but other than that it's a pretty wide field of possibilities.  You can do shapeshifting, flight, illusions; there's healing..."

"Most of the things that are traditionally associated with vampires don't come automatically with turning, but you can do a lot of them yourself: not needing to breathe or eat, enhanced senses and physical abilities, that sort of thing."

"Yeah.  And so there are really only two major differences between vampires and regular people: humans - okay you could make a case that vampires are just a subcategory of humans but for convenience's sake I'm going to use the term to refer exclusively to people without the ability to get magic powers if they bite other people real hard - humans get magic by having their blood drank by a vampire, and we can burn through that magic to create direct effects on the world.  Vampires get magic by drinking blood from a human - they can drink blood from another vampire, but it saps magic from the drinkee instead of giving it - and while they can use it to get direct effects, it's generally way less efficient than it is for humans.  What they can do, though, is develop skills, so that if they try to do a certain thing, it takes less magic actively poured into it.  If you do that enough, it gets to a point where no additional magic input is required; you can just do the thing at no cost."

"But if you push a skill too far or try to develop it too fast, there can be drawbacks.  They have some variance from person to person and with the details of the situation, but generally it's something...fitting?  Like, um, I know of somebody who increased their physical strength too fast and ended up unable to tell how much force she's applying, and now she just constantly breaks stuff.  And there was a guy who went in for reflexes and agility; he's got kind of a hair-trigger; he'll hear a mildly startling noise behind him and be across the room before he even notices."

"We haven't actually met anybody like that," Ari clarifies.  "You just hear stories, mostly.  It isn't that easy to mess up that badly by mistake and no one's exactly willing to experiment with it, so there's not a lot of data about what drawbacks things have."  She contemplates for a second. "Oh, right, why haven't you heard of it - it's not exactly a secret, we're not going to have to kill you because we told you about this, and we won't get in trouble ourselves.  I think it's just sort of running on momentum at this point?  Nobody feels like taking a few hours with every stranger they meet to tell them about it, and nobody's made a grand reveal to a large audience yet.  But some places lots of people know - Switzerland has a weirdly high proportion, and a few other places do too."

"And there aren't really that many vampires, either.  The population is growing, sure, but I'm not sure there's more than a few thousand globally right now.  And a lot of them are I think using magic as a way to get a lot of money and are pretty content being one of a small number of people with their skillset."

"Also true."

"And yeah, as Ari said, anyone can do magic, you just need to convince a vampire to drink your blood on either a long-term basis if you don't want to turn right away or just a few times if you do.  I don't really have an opinion about whether you should that isn't on the basis of 'I would probably have to be the one supplying you with it.'"

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Jaime’s first thought is ‘so how about I exponentially spread vampirism and induce post scarcity’. Her second thought is ‘that sure sounds like exactly the sort of thing a vampire would say if there were an internally secretive group of vampiric masquerade enforcers trying to maintain their monopoly’.

“Any other supernatural systems going around?”

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"Not that I'm aware of."

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“I’m going to go to bed and we can retrace this in the morning, when I’m capable of retaining information and making decisions.  Can I have a ground floor bedroom.”

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"Of course."

"It's worth mentioning that we're kind of half nocturnal right now? Like, bed at four, up at noonish. But I could probably go to bed early if you think you're going to be up sooner than that; I'm pretty whipped anyway."

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“We don’t need to go to bed or wake up at the same time.”

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"As you like."

It doesn't show on her face, but she's not thrilled with either giving a basically-random person unsupervised free rein of the place or instructing her to stay in her room until one of them is up, and if they take the time to list the places it's okay to go and the things it's okay to touch they'll be here the rest of the night.  She'll just try to be awake at nine and hope that's good enough.

Hana directs her to a hallway lined with guest rooms; they have the same mix of decors as the rest of the house.  "Pick whichever one you like; I'll see you tomorrow!"

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Jaime kind of got a ‘we don’t want to leave you unsupervised’ vibe, there, but she’s uninterested in indulging it when she can instead sleep.

She picks a reasonably modern room at random, strips, places the knife that was previously in her left boot underneath her pillow, deposits the knife that was in her right boot conspicuously on the nightstand, and puts the knife that was previously in her pocket - which looks like an ordinary pen, naturally - in the little cup beside the bed.

She falls asleep a few minutes after her head hits a pillow. She doesn’t dream.

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Nothing disturbs her sleep.

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Nothing is going to get stabbed in the face, then. 

She dresses in dry clothes, and spends some time scribbling down notes on what she remembers, the pen-knife also being a functional pen. Harder to catch someone in an inconsistent lie, otherwise.

Subsequent to that, she nibbles on the little granola bars she packed, neatly brushes and wrangles her hair into something approaching its normal state, writes down speculation and questions and priorities and resources in carefully illegible shorthand, attends to miscellaneous matters of personal hygiene and presentation that needn’t be swelled upon, goes through those dance forms and minor exercises that aren’t disallowed by confined space, re-conceals her knives, and eventually exits the room, at around eleven in the morning.

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Ari is in one of the living rooms she passes, sitting mostly upright but with her head flopped on the back of the sofa.  It may be unclear whether or not she's awake at the moment, depending on how quiet Jaime is being, but she seems dressed for a new day rather than in pajamas.

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Jaime looks out a window.

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The curtains are all still closed; when she passes by to open them it becomes apparent that Ari is at least awake enough to mumble, "Morning."

It's still raining, if a bit less than it was last night.

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She doesn’t really appreciate her lack of viable escape routes, in case of contingency, but she can cope.

“Good morning.”

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"How's it outside?" she asks, summoning the strength to lift her head from the back of the couch.

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Jaime valiantly refrains from saying ‘it isn’t, it’s indoors’.

“Raining.”

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"Cool."  She pauses a moment.  "Say, you don't have anywhere to be, do you?  Like, I'm definitely not kicking you out, and I'm not even gonna ask why you were trekking through the middle of nowhere in a storm at night with nothing but a rolly suitcase - although if you do happen to feel like explaining that, great, go ahead - but cars: exist.  That we own, even.  If you need a ride somewhere."

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“I broke up with my girlfriend. I ran out of cash for the taxi, five miles short of my family house. I decided to walk. They aren’t expecting me.”

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"Oh, gosh.  I'm sorry; do you need anything?  I mean I know we offered standard "you are a person staying in a house that's not yours and we are the people whose house it is" stuff, but like, are you good?  Do you want - I feel like it's maybe weird to offer a hug in this situation but if you want a hug you can have one. ...Also I'm not actually sure from that answer whether you want a ride or not."

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“I don’t want a hug, or a ride. I’d like a continuation of yesterday's explanation, now with a notepad, and, if being a vampire is as you represent it, I’d like to stay here for the necessary three months or receive a referral to some other vampire that might be willing to enable a transition.”

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Ari hasn't picked up on Jaime's strategy for checking their story for inconsistencies. "I don't know where you got three months from; turning time varies. But yeah, continuing the explanation is definitely something we can do. And, okay, we didn't intentionally misrepresent the experience of being a vampire or anything, but I feel like you should have a more complete understanding of it before you decide you want to be one. I mean, when I learned about them, I was like, yes, sign me up immediately let's go, but it's been almost a year and as you can see I'm still human. By my own choice.

"Also personal compatibility is definitely a thing in any situation built around putting your mouth on someone's body, so it makes sense that that was the main thing Hana was thinking of, but I'd also want to be pretty sure you're not going to like, use magic to hurt large groups of people or anything before we make any arrangements."

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Jaime is increasingly impressed with Ariel’s skill at ducking: it takes a great deal of effort to have absolutely everything sail right on over your head. Perhaps she has anatid ancestry. 

“I’ll be glad to increase in understanding, receive explanations, determine personal compatibility, and avoid massacring the innocent. We can start with the first, if you have any arguments I’ll find persuasive.”

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"I don't think there's anything that'll necessarily put you off it entirely, but there are probably some decent reasons to at least wait a bit, depending on your situation.  The most obvious one is appearance; you have to look like, y'know, a vampire.  The magic is really insistent about it once you finish turning.  If you try too hard to look like not-a-vampire, we're pretty sure you stop being, uh, sapient?  I mean as with most things we aren't actually sure, but there's definitely at least two cases where people who were vampires stopped looking like it and in short order went on to attack a bunch of people and failed at any point after that to show signs of higher-than-animal intelligence?  No one's really willing to investigate it further.  It's possible this isn't a forever problem; I heard of some older vamps who can pass for human fine, but no one knows what the deal is - whether it's a magic skill they built up or just because they're old or a threshold of their overall magic ability."

She thinks for a moment.  "Also there's some kind of fucked up stuff in the powerset?  None of it has really been a problem yet in terms of far-reaching atrocities, but if someone does decide to go big with them they're totally going to target other vamps first.  There're defenses against them but it takes a long time to cover everything and the safest thing is probably just to be beneath notice.

"There's anecdotal evidence that spending longer as a magic-doing human before turning makes you a magic-ier vampire faster, which is my main reason, personally.  Partially for the potential personal benefit, but also just to try to figure it out.  And that's the kicker, the fact that there's so much we don't know about all of this.  Which most of the time is a fun, yay-we-get-to-figure-stuff-out party, but apparently sometimes something you're trying to finesse ends up super overpowered and you accidentally almost knock your houseguest unconscious instead of just making her kind of tired!  And there's lots of things that could've caused it but very few clues about which one of them it is!  And you feel both emotionally shitty about that and for some reason mentally and physically shitty, too.  Could be the blood loss and tiredness but it feels like a magic thing."  She is mildly abashed of her detour.  "So yeah, there's.  You might have to deal with that."

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Possibility one: they’re lying to her. Possibility two: supernatural creatures are kept hidden by a shadowy conspiracy of elders, who also lobotomize any vampire who isn’t in on it and gets too uppity. Possibility three...

“This is an aside, but the vampiric masquerade maintains itself without blatant enforcement, vampires are subject to aesthetic laws, you accidentally overpowered something magical when attempting to enforce the masquerade. How confident are you that whichever aesthetic force enforces vampiric appearances doesn’t also enforce secrecy?"

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"Pretty sure?"  She does the universal "maybe" hand gesture.  "It - I think that even if we decide not to set up anything long term, we can do one bite now; the magic from that won't be enough to hurt anyone with.  It'll be a lot easier to explain once you feel it, but - we have no reason to believe magic is itself sentient, but it does have....I can't come up with a better word than 'preferences' right now.  The only one I've felt is the one that it wants me to turn into a vampire, but apparently once you turn it has more.  As far as I can tell, they're mostly...instructional?  Like, not doing things that'll damage you.  I'm having trouble putting it into words but it feels like if it cared about secrecy it would...let us know?  Before it hit us with side effects.  Not gonna rule it out, and it could definitely be something like that even if you're not exactly correct, but it - seems like the wrong aesthetic, which I think matters for something that cares so much about sticking to theme in other respects."  It occurs to her: "But nothing like this happened when Hana told me or in any other case I've heard of where people found out about vamps, so that's worth considering."

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Isn’t that convenient.

“I understand. What kind of verification of peaceful intent did you have in mind.”

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"What, with the - ?" she mimes biting her arm, which has by this point been bandaged.  "I mean, you don't have to if you don't want.  I just - thought you wanted magic?  And this is how you get it.  I guess we could - I know I've been using the term 'bite,' but cutting is usually more practical; you can definitely be the one to do it.  And it really doesn't have to be that much blood; I'm only like this right now because we were anticipating using a lot of magic.  I don't have any other specific ideas at hand but if you have suggestions I imagine we can probably accommodate them."

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People spinning off into monologues without pausing to confirm that they’re not misinterpreting you is actually pretty annoying.

“I meant ‘how were you planning on verifying that I don’t plan on using magic to hurt people’. I’m not worried about you wanting to kill me, or about blood.”

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Oops.  "I might have to get back to you on that."

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“Okay. What’s the ratio in your kitchen between priceless artifacts and flour?”

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"One-to-six.  Hungry?"

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Jaime smiles. It’s a little bit startling.

”I could eat.”

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Ari is a little bit startled!  "Cool.  We've got cereal and - " woah she should not have stood up that fast, yikes.  She takes a second while her vision clears.  " - toast and stuff.  And there's probably stuff for pancakes or omlettes if you want to make them but I'm not gonna."

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“I can make something. Lead the way.”

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She successfully leads the way back to the kitchen.  Doesn't even bump into any doorframes, although this is possibly because they all have the virtue of being double-width.  "What were you planning on making?"

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“Tiramisu. With some substitutions.”

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Oh gosh that sounds complicated.  She wishes Hana were up.  "What's...in that.  Or do you just want to look through the cupboards yourself?"

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“Yes.”

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"Food is in that general area; pots and pans and stuff are over there; spoons and whisks and measuring cups and whatnot are in either that jar thing or one of these drawers.  Have at it."

All of the stuff that keeps long term is ridiculously fancy and expensive; everything with a shelf life was bought from the closest grocery store.  There's no ladyfingers or mascarpone, but there is a loaf of cinnamon bread and various dairy products that she can probably mix to a similar consistency.

While Jaime's discovering this, Ari microwaves a mug of water and then sits at the island, drinking it plain and not really paying much attention to what Jaime's doing.

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Ladyfingers, mascarpone, and cinnamon bread are for the unadventurous.

She preheats the oven, starts a pot of coffee, separates the yolk from three egg whites, mixes the egg whites in an elaborate coffee-themed batter, prepares a cupcake tray, pours in the batter, and starts a set of cupcakes in the oven; that done, she starts stirring together the leftover egg yolk with sugar in a metal bowl on top of a boiling pot, combining cottage cheese and sour cream in a separate bowl, whipping cream - 

She finds a necessary (and slightly ridiculous) number of small cups, and splits each cupcake in half, horizontally. The bottom half of each cupcake goes into the bottom of a corresponding cup, a bit of coffee gets poured onto each, and then a layer of the creamy-cheese-custard mixture, and then the top half of each cupcake, then more coffee, and then a final layer of the creamy-cheese-custard mixture and a slight sprinkle of cacao powder.

The whole process takes about two hours, including most of the cleanup.

The end result - which mostly ends up in the refrigerator under the watchful eye of plastic wrap, and also incidentally ends up in Jaime, Ariel, and Hana’s hands, alongside spoons, as appropriate - is delicious.

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Once it's clear that this is getting pretty involved, Ari moves to an adjacent room and messes around on her phone, occasionally returning to refill her water.  Two hours of not having to do much of anything is apparently an adequate cure for her malaise, which is relieving;  she'd been a little worried that they'd hit on some lasting negative effects despite all the evidence that humans don't get those.

Hana comes in at some point; they chat about carefully unimportant topics for a bit.  She offers to help with the cleanup when Jaime gets to that stage of the proceedings.

And then - wow that is delightful.  "This is really good," says Ari after the first bite.  Hana hums in agreement.

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Jaime - who bluntly refused help with tidying up - is also enjoying her tiramisu. This doesn’t have the faintest influence on her facial expression, because why would it.

”Thank you.”

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They're getting pretty used to the concept of Jaime not making expressions that match up with what they'd expect most people's to be in similar situations!  "No, thank you," Hana smiles.

"Have you cooked professionally at all?" inquires Ari.  "Or, baked, I guess would be the more relevant term."

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“No. I don’t cook for strangers often, I just cook for strangers well.”

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"I won't deny that!"

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“I did cook for my girlfriend, regularly; I gain some spiteful satisfaction from how she’ll now have to subsist on fast food and sad pot roasts.”

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"Nice!"  ...Is that an appropriate response?  She hopes so.

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“My relationship with Alexandra has always been made out of spite and distance and petty retribution. It isn’t much of a change.”

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"I guess it makes more sense to express sympathy for the fact you were in that situation in the first place than the breakup, then."  It has already been established that Jaime does not want a hug, so it definitely doesn't make sense to offer her one again, so she won't.  "I'm sorry you were in that situation in the first place."

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“Oh, it was fun, in a way. We’ve broken up three times. She’d drug me and I’d wake up in another city; I’d pin her to the wall with a knife. She’d throw my dog into the ocean; I’d run her car into a ditch. She’d leave me stranded in another country; I’d arrange for her to be fired. I’ll spare you the details.”

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It's really hard to tell whether or not she's joking by her tone, but it seems at least somewhat unlikely that she'd be speaking this flippantly about it this soon, if she were serious?  Yeah she'll go with that.  She does a polite little laugh.

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 Welp, that's horrifying and now she feels extra bad about accidentally magic-drugging her.  "We don't need to worry about her, like, coming after you or anything, do we?"

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“She can find my family home, and she’d arrive there within a few weeks. She probably can’t find a random castle, miles from my family home, within the next few months.”

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"Okay cool. Anything else like this that would be good for us to know if we end up hosting you long term?"

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What, do they think she has an extra ex-girlfriend hiding in her pocket, waiting to jump out and steal the left sock from every pair?

”No.”

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It's really unlikely that Jaime'd answer honestly if she were going to, but it can hardly hurt to ask:

"If we give you vampire magic are you going to use it to get revenge on your ex."

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“I might use it to kill her goldfish. If I preferred her dead or maimed she would be.”

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"Do you usually deal with your issues with other people by going after parties that haven't actually done anything wrong, or is that - " She cuts herself off before that train of thought goes any further.  " - Sorry.  I'm aware that killing a goldfish is not actually that big of a deal.  Just," she takes a deep breath, "there are plenty of ways to inconvenience people with magic that have exactly zero collateral damage, and it would be reassuring to know that you'd use those in the hopefully-unlikely event that you feel like going after her."

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“I was using ‘kill her goldfish’ as a metonym for ‘annoy her in impermanent ways’. I don’t actually plan on killing her goldfish, she goes through one a month anyways. If I go after Alexandra, it’ll be in retaliation for something she did after this point in time, not for something in the past; if I retaliate against her, I’ll aim for a proportionate response and minimize collateral damage. Magic would make that less difficult, not more difficult. Does that suffice.”

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Ari is definitely going to keep in mind that she could be lying, but the fact that she at least recognizes that as a thing to aim for in her hypothetical deception is somewhat reassuring.  And voicing thoughts about any doubts she might have is unlikely to be helpful, especially when she doesn't really have any evidence save 'sometimes people lie, I guess.'

"Yeah."

"What do you plan on doing with magic, based on what you know so far?" chimes in Hana, no longer believing Jaime to be joking but not feeling especially inclined to comment on the situation directly.

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Do let’s avoid saying ‘figure out what’s enforcing the masquerade, break it, break the masquerade too, spread vampirism exponentially to create a post-scarcity utopia’ -

“Become better at dancing. Heal people of illness, discretely. Live forever. Fly. Become independently wealthy. Experiment. Turn into a bird. Eat in Rome for breakfast and France for lunch. Figure out everything else I want to do.”

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"All good things!" she says, depositing tiramisu cups in the dishwasher and semi-discreetly exchanging nods with Ari.  "Ready?" she asks Jaime.

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“Yes.”

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Hana leads them to a room that, now that Jaime has the context, was pretty clearly designed to be The Room Where Blood Gets Drank, and she'll probably recognize it as the one Ari was sitting in when she walked by last night. It's about as fancy as the rest of the house but more obviously intended to be cleanable; most of the chairs seem to have removable cushions and none of the surfaces are porous enough to stain easily. She takes a seat at an s-shaped bench, designed to allow two people to sit facing each other. Ari removes a box from a drawer and offers its contents to Jaime: a silver knife ornate enough that it'd be less than useless in combat, but perfectly adequate for slicing up a stationary target.

"Do you by chance want chemical or magical local anaesthesia?" inquires Hana.

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“No.”

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Fancy knife?

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Jaime twiddles with her not-visibly-distinguishable-from-a-pen, using her left hand. It looks like an absentminded habit.

And then, yes, fancy knife.

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It seems likely that Jaime would find a "let us know if you want to stop for any reason" talk condescending, and Hana doesn't actually think she needs it, so she'll just guide the wound up to her mouth, keeping an eye out for any signs of hesitation, and -

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- At first, it feels just about like what one would expect from a cut and someone's mouth sucking gently thereupon, but after a bit of a delay there's -  something else.  It isn't a physical sensation; it's an awareness of the possibilities open to her, and a sense of excitement, distinct from her own emotions, following from that.

 

Does she want her teeth pointier, her features sharper?  Should she make a permanent improvement her stamina or her strength or her speed, her agility, her grace, or her flexibility?  Or she could do quite a boost to one of those - or several of them! - as long as she doesn't care about them lasting.  She could make herself younger, or age more slowly later, or become sturdier, less vulnerable to physical harm in general.  She could grow some fangs!  She could turn into a bird, for a bit, or even just fly as she is now!  Teleporting is an option, although she couldn't go very far yet.  She wants Hana and Ari to like her, right?  She could make them, if she felt like it!  But maybe she'd prefer to improve her memory or her attentional capacity or her speed of thought; those are also great choices.  Has she considered that she could make her skin - not paler per se, but maybe a bit less saturated and a little less flushed?  And breathing and eating and drinking are all great, but needing to is such a pain; might she be interested in doing less of that?  She could fix the cut on her arm (although maybe she should wait a few minutes on that one) or improve her base rate of healing!  Does she want to grow some fangs?  And, of course, she needn't hurry to pick any of these right now, she has a decent window of time before the magic'll fade to the point of unusability, but -

There are so! many!! possibilities!!!

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She tries becoming permanently more graceful.

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She succeeds!

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Good. 

She can just... politely wait for Hana to detach, then. 

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This happens as soon as she notices, which doesn't take very long at all.  Jaime continues to gain magic until she stops, although at a lesser rate from when they started.

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She also invests that extra magic into permanent grace, surprising absolutely no one. Priorities first.

 

“That was interesting.”

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Ari hands her a first aid kit.  "Good-interesting, I hope?"

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She fiddles with the first aid kit appropriately.

“I’m not a fan of the mood alteration, the pain was nice, it was minimally awkward, I’m glad to have the end result. Four out of five stars, would be dined on again.”

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"Yeah, it's pretty - noisy, at first; that mostly goes away after a few times, or at least gets ignorable."

Hana nods.  "And what was your end result?"

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“Grace. Would you mind if I tried it out?”

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"Oooh.  Yeah, come on, the ballroom's this way!"

The ballroom is, indeed, that way; it has half a wall done in mirrors and plenty of space for her to try out anything she might feel like.

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She feels like many things! Assorted bits of ballet, done largely demi-pointe and with a sort of sharp, violent delicacy to them, and snippets of abstract, beautiful, vaguely-interpretive dance without the violence and with much more delicacy, and snippets of less abstract contemporary dance done without the delicacy and with much more violence, all done without music. At one point a graceful cartwheel transitions seamlessly into a pirouette, and then transitions back into a cartwheel; at another point she starts fencing some artfully choreographed routine with an invisible opponent; at other times she seems to be perfectly conventional.

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She doesn't actually feel any different, especially when doing things she's already confident in.  But at the edges of her ability, she can just sort of...do a little more than previously.  - She can get in an extra beat in her entrechats before landing, is the most concrete thing.

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They applaud enthusiastically every time it seems appropriate, which is not infrequently.

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Jaime would blush, if that were a thing that she ever did in ordinary situations.

She eventually stops.

”That wasn’t really optimized for being a performance, but I’m glad that you enjoyed it.”

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"It was really interesting!  Watching polished routines is great, but seeing someone just kind of mess around with what they can do is a - differently cool experience.  I haven't seen anything similar before."

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“I’m glad.”

 

 

 

Time passes.

Jaime continues to be... herself, for a definition thereof resembling ‘standoffish, stoic, flippant, strongly opinionated, inclined to frequently make impossibly delicious food, mildly obsessed with keeping in peak form, and distinctly disinclined towards mass murder’.

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This (along with a cursory background check) is sufficient to convince them that it probably won't be a disaster if they continue to vamp her. After checking in with Hana's aunt to make sure she doesn't disapprove (who does her own, rather less cursory background check, which turns up a few interesting things, none of which she feels the slightest need to make her niece aware of. She does feel the need to tell her she'd be overjoyed to host-by-proxy someone with actual talent at something; keep trying, dear, you'll get there someday), they start Jaime on a regular blood-drinking schedule.

Hana leaves a few times a week for lessons and activities of various sorts. Ari mostly stays home, but sometimes drives her and hangs around town and picks up groceries and whatnot. Jaime has a standing invitation to come along on these, but they don't mind leaving her alone there once they've had the 'these are the things it's okay and not okay to touch' talk.

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Jaime mostly avoids miscellaneous activities - with a few exceptions - and sometimes accompanies them for groceries, and sometimes makes spontaneous requests for exactingly specific kinds of vinegar.

She also gets really fucking graceful, and secondarily stronger. She starts mixing it up with vague gestures at slowed aging and disease resistance and more rapid healing once she manages fifty consecutive pirouettes. 

About a hundred days after she first arrived, there’s a knock on the door.

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Ari gets it.

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A blonde woman - about six feet tall, with an unsubtle taste in makeup, broad shouldered enough that the impolite might be called to question her assigned sex at birth - is there.

She looks precisely like Jaime’s description of Alexandra.

”I believe that you have something of mine.”

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shit shit shit -

" - Uh.  Just a second."  She shuts the door with rather more force than she meant to, locks it, and runs to where Jaime is, fast enough that stopping is accomplished by sock-sliding sideways into a wall, rather than, say, slowing down of her own accord. "Jaimeyourexisatthefrontdoorwhatdowedo."

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Jaime - who is in the middle of eating cereal - slowly puts down her spoon.

 

“Don’t. What did she say, if anything.”

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"Um.  That we - had something of hers?"  She takes a few shaky breaths.  "And, just so we're clear: don't what, exactly?"

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She stands up.

“Don’t fall into a blind panic. Can you think of any reason why I shouldn’t answer the door and tell her to fuck off?”

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"You're not my real mom; I'll fall into a blind panic if I want to."  She has sort of a nervous smile as she says it, though.  "But no."

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“Then I can handle this.”

She walks in long strides, over to the door, opens it - 

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“Hello, my lovely. Were you thinking that I’d stay away forever?”

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“I was hoping that you’d been shot. Or died in a car accident. Or drowned.” 

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“You’ve always been a regular comedian, lovely, haven’t you. Would it please you to come with me, or shall I resume playing the game here? It would be so very impolite to your hosts, although of course they’ve already burned most of my goodwill in hiding you away. It’s such an interesting setting, for a game; I wonder what I might come up with.”

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“I won’t even bother asking how you found me - still making threats, Alexandra? You’d think you’d never wondered why I chose to stay here in particular.”

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“A little bird told me. Or was it a rat? I can never tell the difference, with pigeons or bats of any kind. What are you trying to imply, my lovely?”

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“Guess.”

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“I’ll be back, my love, don’t fret your pretty little head about it.”

She turns -

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Jaime shuts the door.

 

 

”I hate subtext.”

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Ari is tapping a rapid and erratic rhythm on the side of her thigh.  "How soon do you think she'll be back, and what do you think we'll have to worry about when she does?"

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“Within a week or two. That threat was vague enough that I don’t think she’ll do anything serious right away; she might leave creepy poetry in places she shouldn’t’ve been able to get to. She’ll escalate from there.”

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"Okay.  Okay.  Um, we have other places to stay?  They're all tied to us legally - or, well, as far as I know; I'll ask Hana when she gets back - so I don't think it would actually stop her from finding us, but we could maybe hop around a bit, buy some time.  - Is there anything you can think of that we could do to scare her off, that wouldn't itself be escalating?"

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“She probably wouldn’t fuck with you if she knew that you had magical powers. You probably don’t want her to know that you have magical powers.”

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"How probably?"

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“Alexandra hasn’t made it into her thirties by being... herself... at unknowns. If she knew exactly what you could do, she’d chew you into pieces; if she only knew some of what you could do, she’d stay away for - probably at least another three months. You’d have to be careful about the balance of information.”

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"And how likely is it that she finds out about it on her own in the course of leaving - " tap taptap tapity tap taptap tap "...presents."

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“Unknown. You’re already pretty suspicious, but even if she sees something directly it’s a leap.”

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Ari nods.  "Do you think she's likely to do anything that would actually end up harming you, now that you have - a wider arsenal of tools at your disposal?"

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“Well, I don’t have any pets right now, so that’s one thing crossed off the list. And I’ll be prepared if I wake up in a Tahitian brothel - do you have any updated estimates on how long turning is going to take from here, once that’s done I can leave and this can cease to be your problem.”

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She sure has some thoughts on several of the things that just came out of Jaime's mouth, but she also almost certainly doesn't have the ability to usefully articulate them right now, so she'll just.  Focus on the most concrete part.  "You'd probably know more about the specifics than I do, but if she escalates at about the rate you say, I expect we can have you turned before anything gets too bad?  If it's at the longer end we might have to use some stalling tactics."

Jaime's pool of magic has been expanding every time she's been drank from, and the feedback it gives has shifted from "You could do this or this or this" to "You could do this and this and this or that and that and that."  If it's accurately representing itself - it seems to have been, thus far - she could probably be a vampire within a month to a month and a half, if they keep up the same rate of feedings.

"Also, um.  If there's nothing super time sensitive I think I'd really benefit from a walk?  So I'm gonna go do that I think.  - Unless you think she might still be out there."

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Jaime’s internal monologue isn’t even going to bother making a dry remark about that, being long accustomed to Ariel’s tendencies - and she’s already been eyeballing that internal sensation, but it’s still nice to have external confirmation -

“I don’t expect her to be waiting in the bushes - it wouldn’t be the right style - but you should have a contingency plan for if she is.”

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"Okay cool.  Start worrying if I'm not back in an hour."  She en-coats and en-boots and heads out the back door.

(Hana has perfect resistance to cold, at least as far as they've been able to test.  By the time Ari gets back, which is in about 45 minutes, she's switched back and forth about six times between feeling grateful and annoyed that she doesn't.)

When she comes back inside (and changes into dry clothes, and has a mug of hot chocolate), she's much less jittery.  She approaches Jaime and says with a determined earnestness, "So.  I - uh, I do think it's probably safest for you to finish turning, but - you don't have to leave, once you do.  I mean, if you really think there's nothing we can do to help, that we'd only be collateral damage, then, yeah, I guess that should probably be that.  But if you think there's a chance that we could assist in making this cease to be anyone's problem, then - I think we want to do that."

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That’s actually pretty endearing.

“I’m having trouble verbalizing my response to that. I feel like I’ve miscommunicated somewhere - I do want to stay in contact, but I wasn’t planning on staying here indefinitely in the first place, and I knew that Alexandra was going to find me at some point. The way that I describe her makes her sound like a substantial problem, and she is, but substantial problems - aren’t always your first priority? My ideal world doesn’t include Alexandra, but she isn’t worth risking other people for.”

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"Sure.  I just - it kind of sounded like you thought we'd want to kick you out, now that there's - her.  And I wanted to make sure you knew that wasn't the case."

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“I appreciate it.”

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"No problem, boblem."  She sips her second hot chocolate.  "Oh, and I wanted to talk about general strategy stuff.  Like, if you think there's certain things we could do that would buy us a lot of time, then maybe we should do those proactively?  But also I think we probably all want to minimize the chance that she'll decide to come after me and Hana after you've left, and I'm not sure how likely various things are to do that."

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“I am not nor have I ever been a member of the boblem party. Alexandra ordinarily respects people clash with her for a while and then give up, although sometimes she gives them a send off present... no strategies immediately come to mind. And on reflection I’m concerned about her use of the phrase ‘I can never tell the difference, with pigeons or bats of any kind’. It’s suggestive, in context.”

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"Yeah, that was ominously specific.  As for strategies, like I said, we could move around often enough that it'd be pretty hard to figure out where we were at any given time, although if she has the resources to be bothersome in multiple locations that'll be less effective.  Hana's aunt has a few places, but we also have some other vampire friends we could probably stay with.  It wouldn't be difficult to find out we're connected to them, but they'll have defenses of their own that might help.  Might be harder to control what she learns about magic that way, though.

"Strategy number two: we go to her, show off magic threateningly, hope that's enough to make her leave us alone for long enough by itself.  Ideally, we rig it so it looks like there's extra limitations that we don't in reality have, which we can drop pretending we do in the event of actual danger.

"Three: we fake your death.  I don't really have any specifics on this one except that it seems pretty easy to do with magic? Obviously we'd have to make it seem unconnected to Hana and me; she definitely seems like the vowing-revenge type unless I'm really misreading her.  Oh, and also I feel like you could probably springboard off of the face-sharpening part of turning to drastically change how you look faster than you normally could; you could make yourself unrecognizable.  And you'll probably look different enough that you may want a new identity anyway.

"Four: this one's super morally sketchy, and it's not permanent, and I feel like it maybe wouldn't actually deter her, and none of us are skilled at it enough to finesse it.  But.  We could just make her not care about you.  I don't think we should do it if we have any better options, but I don't know enough about the situation to say whether we do, so I thought I'd mention it."

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What the fuck.

“I’m actually pretty deeply appalled by you even bringing up fucking with her mind as an option. Let’s not, say we did.”

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"Okay."

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“I appreciate the thought, just, do let’s avoid casually crossing fundamental ethical boundaries.”

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"Okay."

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Jaime pats her awkwardly on the shoulder.

”If we move houses in a week, then move again in two weeks, then continue moving every two weeks as relevant, and we’re discrete about the moving process, I don’t think she’ll be able to track us.”

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????????

????

"Okay.  Sounds good.  I'll just, uhm, go message Hana, let her know what's up.  Unless you had something more to add."

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Jaime doesn’t respond to her nonverbal question marks.

”No. I can make dinner; do you have a preference between burritos with tzatziki and greek fettuccine alfredo?”

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She has a preference for not obliging people who justifiably probably hate her to do nice things for her.  "I'm.  Not actually hungry."  She gestures with her mug as an explanation.  "Thank you though."  And with that she turns and walks briskly to her room.

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Hana gets back eventually.  "So, what happened?  Well - Ari said that Alexandra stopped by, and that we'll have to switch residences a few times, and then I'm pretty sure she's just been typing for forty minutes, which is only very rarely a good sign."

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Jaime seems to have compromised between fettuccine and burritos, and made from-scratch ravioli in a delectably fragrant cucumber-yogurt sauce; she’s stirring the ravioli into the sauce as she speaks. She’s also sliced up additional cucumbers, and a hefty number of strawberies, and turned them into some sort of bizarre salad coated generously by a balsamic-yogurt sauce; a pan with unbearably fancy looking bruschetta on it sits off to the side.

“She suggested mind control as a possible solution to Alexandra, I said that I found it appalling that she would consider it, she shattered and curled up into a little ball of despair. I’m both concerned and confused.”

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"Ah. That...does sound like her. I can certainly see why that would be concerning and confusing, but if you can elaborate on why specifically you find it so, I might be better able to provide some answers. - If your concern is that this'll interfere with you getting turned or us protecting you from Alexandra, you don't have to worry about that."

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"It turns out that when I live with people for three months I start caring at all about their well being, independently of other concerns. Are you imagining that I wander around in a cloud of complete self interest."

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"It seemed like a reasonable thing to have on your mind. It wasn't my intention to imply it was the only thing and I apologize for it coming off that way."

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“Do you want to deliver food to her, or should I.”

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"...I definitely don't think you should.  It might be better for me to just go check on her first, too."

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“As you like.”

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She goes off to knock on Ari's door.

 

She returns a few minutes later and holds out her phone for Jaime to look at.  Visible on the screen is:

Hey. Can I come in?

 i'm good
but thanks

Do you want me to bring you dinner? It smells really good

i did the thing where i burned some magic on not needing to eat for a while
again
sorry

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“I feel like I’ve miscalibrated, either on how emotionally delicate she is or on how much she values my good opinion. I’m not sure what to do about that.”

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"I think she probably values your good opinion a fair bit, but she might just be that sensitive to anyone she doesn't actively dislike.  She gets annoyed rather than upset when my aunt criticizes her, but in every other case I can think of, she's had - the same type of reaction if not usually on the same scale.  I'm not sure there are many people who can take being called appalling to their face gracefully, although I may be wrong about that.  And," she looks down at a wall of text on her phone to check a detail, "she mostly doesn't view herself as...capable, I think, of being a good person, even though she believes very strongly that it's important to be one, so it's upsetting to have such a strong indicator that she's failing.

"She is," scroll scroll scroll "very confused that you 'don't appear to hate' her, and she mostly deals with situations she's not confident in by, er, not dealing with them; the fact that she disappeared herself is possibly less about her distress and more about that.  - And it wouldn't surprise me if she'd be handling this a lot better if this had somehow happened in isolation, rather than because of and soon after the - encounter - with Alexandra, which she found very alarming."

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“I could tell.

I’m going to go monologue at her and see if that helps, enjoy the bruschetta.”

 

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"....All right.  Thank you."

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“You’re welcome.”

She walks over to Ari’s bedroom. She knocks, three times, on the door.

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No response.

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How shocking. 

Jaime sighs, quietly, and decides to display an emotional range.

”I’m not upset with you, and I don’t hate you! You’re adorable! I don’t gauge my dislike for people based on their morality, there’s a sense in which I’m still in love with Alexandra! You aren’t very competent but people’s fundamental value and likability exist independently of their competence! I thought that the specific proposal you made was appalling, I actually think you’re pretty neat in general! If I disliked you I would tell you and I wouldn’t make you food, you’ve observed my general bluntness for three months! You’re much more personally charming than Hana and I like you more, she always seems really insincere! Open the fucking door so I can give you a hug!”

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Well, dammit.  She'd managed not to actually cry up till this point.

Door: opens.

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Jaime hugs her.

One can tell that she doesn’t trifle with hugs - or skin-to-skin contact - very often, but an effort is made.

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The opposing voices in her head yelling 'aaaa being dramatic in order to gain affection is manipulative aaaa' and 'but she told me to, and refusing affection is even more manipulative' balance out to something that involves neither clinging to Jaime for embarrassing amounts of time nor standing there stiffly without hugging back.

Sniff.  "Hana can't really help seeming insincere."

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“God knows I can’t judge anyone else on their social skills.”

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Sporfle.  "I think you're doing pretty okay right now."

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"Good. Don't feel compelled to collapse into a puddle on my account again, making people dissolve isn't as fun as it looks and I prefer not to use exclamation points. Do you want to see a movie, knit decorative scarves, put on a show with frog puppets, I don't know what ordinary people do when this happens."

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"I...really can't make any promises about future en-puddlings, but I'm very very flattered about your use of exclamation points." She wipes her eyes on her sleeve. "Um, I feel like even if normally our tastes in movies have more than zero overlap, they probably don't when I'm limiting the selection to things that'll make me feel better right now? Oh but hey wait - have you ever played Just Dance?"

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“No.”

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"I'm super curious whether I can beat you at it, then, because it just measures how well you can match up with a pre-set thing, as opposed to like, actually being good at dancing."

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“I’m very generally dexterous. Lead the way.”

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"I maybe should've thought of this before you became probably the most graceful person on the planet!" she chirps, walking to the room where the Wii is.

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“That might have been better planned.”

 

Jaime takes about five seconds to adjust to how the game works, and then proceeds to effortlessly outcompete her at it.

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This is about what she expected!  She's not a bad sport about it.

.....But gosh, the choreography is way more repetitive than she remembers, and was this cover of "Toxic" always so terrible?  She checks whether Jaime seems to be enjoying herself.

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Jaime has no visible affect! This doesn’t really imply anything about Jaime’s internal emotional state.

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Yeah, she figured.  She'll just have to ask her with words like some sort of reasonable person.  After the next song, she - nope.  Okay.  She is maybe not capable of being a reasonable person right now; that's fine.  She starts taking off her wrist strap and says with all the sincerety she can muster, "Welp!  That was fun; I feel a lot better.  Thanks for this.  It means a lot."

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“It was an interesting exercise. Do you need any more emotional - most people can’t answer that question, nevermind. I’m going to eat dinner.”

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"Okay, cool."  And then it's back to her room, this time with a substantial decrease in not-crying, it having been replaced by regular, unhyphenated - and, in Ari's opinion, highly superior - not crying.

Hana's still in the kitchen when Jaime returns, worriedly snacking on the bruschetta. "How'd it go?"

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The bruschetta is delicious. The ravioli - having been left in the sauce on low heat - is still warm; Jaime uses a wooden spoon to slosh it onto a plate, hands that plate to Hana, and does the same on a plate of her own. She performs a similar sequence of actions with the strawberry-cucumber salad, and with little bowls, and starts eating.

“She seemed improved. I’m much better than her at Just Dance.”

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"That's good to hear.  ...I feel like I could've guessed the second part."

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“I’m not surprised. Do you have any additional commentary on this situation that I should hear?”

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"If you - on second thought I can't tell whether it'd actually improve things for you to know this.  ...Hmm, but she might bring it up later, and she'll describe it very uncharitably if she does - if you walked away satisfied that she was feeling better she was almost certainly acting happier than she felt.  That's not to say that she doesn't feel better than she did, but her moods are fairly persistent, and she prefers not to - what she sees as burdening people with them.  - I'm not saying you should go back; it probably is best to take her at face value in these situations, just.  If you get an optionally-tearful confession of how she's a fake and a liar in a few days, that's probably why."

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Why are people so ridiculous.

”I’ll keep that in mind.”

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"She may have grown past it.  And without having talked to her in person, I can't say with confidence that she was definitely doing that.  It...wouldn't be the first time, is all."  She picks at her ravioli contemplatively.  Or well, she'd be doing that if it were less delicious; it comes out as an about average amount of gustatory enthusiasm.

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“I’ll deal with it when it bubbles over.”

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She nods and continues eating in silence for a bit.

"Oh, I was going to ask - Ari said that you thought Alexandra would refrain from making herself a permanent fixture in our lives; she also mentioned the possibility of her finding out about magic.  Do you think her willingness to leave us alone will hold up to the knowledge that we have supernatural power?  Assuming that we can't count on remaining enough of an unknown that she'll be indefinitely unwilling to confront us."

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“She could research you indirectly, find your supernatural contacts, and contact them. She can be very charming.” 

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"I'm - very unclear how concerned I should be about this situation, as a whole.  How bad would it be if she convinced someone to turn her; how highly should we prioritize making sure she doesn't find out enough that she'd try?"

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Jaime doesn’t say ‘if I’m perceptive and paranoid enough to spot that there’s an obscured layer of enforcement on the vampiric masquerade, so is she, and she’s going to be even less cautious about stabbing it in the kidney until it bleeds to death’.

She does say -

“She wouldn’t intentionally murder more than a thousand people total during her first decade.”

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".......I'm entirely unable to tell whether or not you meant that to be reassuring."

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“I didn’t.”

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"Okay.  So maybe we should skip visiting my cousins and instead go vacationing in regular hotels, do you think?"

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Oh, is ‘vacationing’ the euphemism they’re using for it.

“Yes.”

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"Anything else I should know before I tell my aunt we'll be doing this?"

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“No.”

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Then she will, after a few tweaks, hit send on the message she's been composing.

 

And in a day or two, they once again reach the point where having Hana drink from Jaime will leave her with more magic instead of just less blood.

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Jaime approves of having more magic and is mostly indifferent about blood loss.

She bleeds.

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The experience of gaining magic hasn't changed much since the first time, aside from the amount she's had access to, but her perception of it has.  After she's had a few times to get used to the sensation, it feels less like having her own mental state altered and more like she's reading someone else's mind.  That someone is consistenly the exact same amount of chipper about all the things she can do with magic, and that amount is a lot.

Does she want to grow fangs or change her facial features or have more space in her brain or fly or desaturate her skin or become stronger or make her posture a little more predatory by default or change her eyes to any of these several dramatic colors or develop her immune system or -

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She’s curious about whether ‘directly vampire-ify faster without other alteration’ is an option, actually, she’s never tested the capacity of the system to make meta level changes.

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It doesn't seem to be distinguishing between 'acquiring superficially vampire-like attributes' and 'making progress toward becoming the type of person who gains magic when they drink other people's blood'!

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Do any superficially-vampiric traits seem more cost effective than others.

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It's been rather chipper-er about changing the bone structure of her face and growing fangs than everything else!  It's not unambiguous confirmation, but those are the most obvious starting points.

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Eh, it isn’t like there’s much harm in it.

She grows fangs.

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The magic gains an element of - satisfaction, maybe, in addition to its customary ebullience, once they get to a certain length and pointiness - still passably in human range.

She still has a fair amount of magic left; does she want to keep growing them?  Adjusting the muscle memory in her mouth so she won't have a lisp is also something she could do now if she wanted!

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She’ll adjust her mouth’s muscle memory and then go on to (partially?) desaturate her skin with any magic she has remaining!

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Reacquiring a lack of a lisp takes barely any magic at all; she has a fair bit left over for skin desaturation.  The magic works fast enough that she can see the change; it's a little striking.  But before Hana's done drinking, Ari enters the room -

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"Maybe wrap it up, guys; there's someone at the door again."

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Jaime lets Hana detach, and stands.

”Who is it.”

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"Haven't checked yet.  Just heard knocking; you guys were closer than the door and I wasn't super planning on inviting them in while you were," gesture.  "Probably shouldn't leave them waiting too long, though."  She starts heading for the door; Hana follows.

"Do you want me to heal that?" Hana asks in low tones as she goes.  "Just - I'd really rather avoid looking suspicious in a way that leads to having to explain more than we have to right now."

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Jaime trails after them.

“Sure.”

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Jaime's wound disappears in short order.  Hana has a handkerchief in a strategic shade of red on hand should she need it.

Ari makes it to the door a bit ahead of them and opens it.

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There are two police officers there - a young, dark skinned woman wearing a vividly teal headscarf, and a burly caucasian man with entirely too much facial hair.

”Hello!” says the bearded man. “We received a report about this property, we did, and we’re going to need to search the premises, if you don’t too much mind.”

”Or if you do,” says his tragically unbearded counterpart. “We have a warrant.”

”Now, now, Ferozah, you know what I’ve been telling you, you ought to have a little politeness, you should -“

“Would you stop trying to make the ‘good cop good cop’ thing happen, it’s never going to happen -“

”But you’re always so blunt about it all, and there’s never any harm in being nice! - I tell you and I tell you, Ferozah, a little courtesy never hurt anyone, not never -“

”You do it your way, I do it mine.”

”Bein’ matter a fact about the most delicate of subjects ain’t a way at all! It’s a sickness. People these days think that they can barrel around like a bull whenever they’re doing anything, and damn them if they aren’t mostly right, but when you tell someone that you think they have all sorts of illegal mind alterin’ medications and tinctures and such you can stand to -“

Ferozah coughs.

The bearded man pauses, suddenly, as if just now realizing that he has an audience.

 

“... anywayswe’re, ah, going to need to search the premises, we are,” he says. “No big fuss about it, just followin’ procedure.”

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There's a lot to process there (cops were not really on the list of people she expected to knock on the door, even after adjusting for the fact that three months ago that list contained 1: the person who delivers their mail, and 2: literally no one else) and she's pretty grateful their conversation gave her some time to do it in.  "Uh, okay.  - Can I see the warrant?"  She has absolutely no idea what one's supposed to do in this situation, but that seems like it could be a not-terrible - maybe even a reasonable - first step?

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“No,” deadpans Ferozah, taking out the search warrant and waving it in Ari’s general direction. Her partner pouts at her.

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Normally she would be pretty sure that was a joke and just grab it anyway, but given the choice between almost certainly looking socially oblivious and a tiny chance of seeming dangerously insubordinate, she'll take the former, thanks.  She makes no move towards taking it.

"Oh."

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The burly beaded man grabs the warrant out of his partner’s hand, and hands it to Ari with a formal gesture.

”Ferozah has a mischievous streak, she does, no sense in denyin’ it - here you go, ma’am, ought to be all in proper order.”

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"Thank you."

She has no clue what information is usually on these, but she's looking for anything indicating the warrant might be fake or invalid.  She's also hoping it might say what it is they'll be searching for - she thinks he mentioned drugs but there was a lot going on and confirmation would be nice - as well as the both of the cops' full names.

She might spend a little more time than is strictly necessary looking it over to stall until Jaime and Hana get there, depending on how long they take.

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The warrant seems perfectly valid in all particulars.

Jaime - presumably followed by Hana - arrives at the door. Jaime stares at the police officers placidly, and fiddles with a pen in her hand.

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"Hey guys, these are officers Almasi and Gagnon, and uh, apparently someone thinks we have illegal drugs here, so they're going to be checking for those.  Officers, these are Jaime and Hana, who also live here."

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“Hello,” says Jaime.

”Ciao,” says Ferozah. She doesn’t comment on the fangs; she does cross her arms. “So. Everyone else is going to step away from the doorway, and we’re going to step inside. Now.”

”If you nice folks wouldn’t too much mind, a’course,” says her partner apologetically.