Cognoscente

9.

Serena walked awkwardly behind Zahi, whose presence seemed to expand increasingly as time passed. So far, he had remained silent as the pair exited the club, but Serena was a bit on edge. There was something off about the shy boy, something strange and foreign to her. She wasn't quite sure what it was, and as she felt the cool night air on her face when they walked outside, she braced herself for something.

She was more than surprised to see Zahi remain silent, quietly taking out his cell phone and punching a number in quickly. Without preamble, he shoved the phone at Serena's face, and dumbly, she pressed the receiver to her ear.

"Hello?" She mumbled in confusion.

"Hello, this is Yellow Cab, how can I help you?"

Serena gaped, looking at Zahi, who was faced away from her, hands jammed in his pockets. "You called me a cab?"

Zahi still remained quiet, and the cold shoulder was starting to give her a very creepy vibe, "Uh, yeah, my name's Serena and I'm at The Fourth Wall," she quickly gave the operator the address.

"Alright! A driver will be there in about ten to fifteen minutes," came the chipper voice before the line went dead. Serena uncomfortably handed the phone back to Zahi, who took it and calmly placed it back inside his jacket.

Silence reigned as Serena clutched her arms around herself in a self hug, her gaze drifting over towards Zahi in confusion. Zahi seemed preoccupied, squatting down and leaning his weight on the backs of his calves, his hands fidgeting.

Finally, she cleared her throat, daring to sit next to him on the curb, "Um…thank you." She ventured softly.

She had expected a soft 'your welcome', or more silence, what she had not expected was the way his nostrils flared and the poisonous glare that was sent in her direction.

"What were you thinking?" He demanded coldly.

Serena leaned away, "Excuse me?"

"I had the assumption that you were not a stupid girl, so what were you doing prancing around at this place? Fancy a night out? A thrill?" His words were caustic and so unfitting for him, even pre-second Cold Fire. Follower Zahi had been charming in his cruelty and manipulation, this was different. Zahi was being blunt and very, very pissed off. Serena found herself increasingly uncomfortable and even apprehensive.

"No I wasn't," her own eyes narrowed, "And I don't see how it's any of your business anyway."

He gave a scoff of derision, looking away from her in either incredulousness or hurt, "You really are naïve."

She frowned, starting to stand up, "I wasn't the only one at a Follower club!" She retorted, acid coating her tongue.

"I'm not a bloody Daughter of the Moon," he said through grit teeth, standing up as well. For once, Serena was well aware of his height, as he seemed to tower over her, "You deliberately put yourself into danger, and for what-?"

"For my boyfriend!" She declared haughtily, not one to be submissive for a scolding.

Zahi's head jerked back slightly, as if from whiplash, but his jaw clenched, "Your boyfriend should be more concerned about your safety-"

"-Stanton just disappeared-"

"-Yvonne was here, and several other higher-ups waiting to chew you up and spit you out-"

"-and I thought I might find him here-"

"-do you know how close you were to almost getting crossed over?"

"-since I haven't heard from him at all and he could be in real danger-"

"-and you scared the shit out of me!"

"-and he's scaring the shit out of me!"

The pair both inhaled deeply at the same time, eying each other wearily as they each processed what the other had said. The way Zahi's eyes seemed to smolder made something strange in the pit of Serena's stomach flare up. While stares could be described as piercing, or cold, or intimidating, this was the first time that Serena ever felt a gaze that was downright burning. She shifted her weight between her legs nervously.

The fiery aspect of his gaze seemed to simmer, and once again Zahi looked like the reclusive classmate she knew, "Stanton…is missing?" When he said the name Stanton there was a lot less ire than normal in his tone.

Serena swallowed hard, "Sort of."

His eyes narrowed, "…sort of?" he repeated dully, obviously requiring elaboration.

Serena's face turned downcast, and she looked at the edges of her grubby sneakers to avoid looking at his face, "Not missing so much as left."

An eyebrow rose. Serena groaned, "There was a note." She clarified.

Silence reigned, and after a few moments, she heard him speak again. Despite being very measured and diplomatic, his words were still like a slap to the face, "If he left, with enough foresight to leave a note, perhaps he doesn't want to be found?"

Serena snarled, "That's not it at all! Stanton has this bizarre martyr complex when it comes to our relationship, more than likely he's trying to protect me by leaving?" The question at the end of the statement was not supposed to be voiced, but Zahi heard it nevertheless.

"I don't mean to sound rude-"

"Like that's going to stop you," she said flatly.

"-but if his leaving results in you frequenting The Fourth Wall, perhaps it's not exactly the best method of protection?"

Serena rolled her eyes, she hadn't been expecting this when she snuck out to the Follower club. Attacks, mind manipulation, physical harm, yes. But a lecture? From Zahi? "Stanton would freak out if he knew I was here," she said levelly, "But that's not going to stop me. I've never been the obedient little girl and I'm certainly not going to start now."

"You're going to put yourself in deliberate danger for a boy who ran away on purpose?" Zahi asked incredulously.

"I'm going to put myself in deliberate danger for a boy that I love." Her mouth was in a thin line, "I don't understand why you feel the need to press your intentions somewhere they're clearly not welcome."

Zahi frowned, "If that isn't the pot calling the kettle black."

She mimicked the frown. Somehow getting the feel for what he was implying, but not quite ready to face it yet. Definitely not yet. Or ever. "Well, now you know my reasons, but why were you there Zahi?"

The look of complete honesty on his face quickly killed any blame Serena would have tossed at him, "I was watching over Morgan. She's getting in over her head and going down a dark path I know far too well." His frown deepened, "And apparently she's not the only one I'm going to have to look after."

Serena's mouth dropped open slightly, "Are you volunteering to be my babysitter?"

"More like insisting."

"I can handle myself just fine."

"Like you did tonight?" Zahi asked dryly.

Serena squirmed uncomfortably at the observation, "It was just Karyl."

"Just Karyl. Who would have taken you to Just Yvonne, and then to Just the Incinti." Zahi shook his head, "Serena, I know that you are not a foolish person, so why do you insist on acting like one?"

"I was being careful-" she defended.

"Do any of the other Daughters know that you're here?" Zahi questioned archly, clearly already knowing the answer.

Serena sighed, "They wouldn't understand. They would have-"

"What? Forbidden you to go? Been concerned?" Zahi gave a chuckle that lacked any humor, "How unreasonable of them."

She inhaled, knowing and recognizing the logic in Zahi's words. "I know what I'm doing right now seems stupid, trust me I know that at least. But if Stanton's in trouble…" she trailed off, not really wanting to go down that line of thought, "Then I would never forgive myself if I just hung on the sidelines waiting for him to return."

Zahi scowled, "And you are above asking your friends for help because…?"

"The other Daughters don't have a lot of trust in Stanton as it is. And they don't want to-"

"I wasn't talking about the other Daughters, Serena."

"Oh," Serena replied blandly, before realization hit her, "Oh." She repeated, looking at Zahi as if for the first time that night.

"Oh," he mimicked, and suddenly the shy aura seemed to encompass him again, "I know that we're not exactly friends, Serena, but I need you to believe that I too would not forgive myself if I sat on the sidelines while you were in danger."

Serena gnawed on her lower lip guiltily, "I can't ask you to help me, Zahi."

"I can't let you refuse my help." Zahi said, the somewhat intimidating persona of his resurfacing over the shy boy. "I am going to follow you to the ends of the earth, Serena. I have a debt to repay."

Something that felt awfully close to disappointment drifted over the telepath. How could she forget? Zahi probably felt as if he had to make amends for almost crossing her over, and protecting her on the search for Stanton was probably the best way to do so in his current- powerless- condition. Things made sense now, his resilient determination, the way his anger surfaced so clearly, of course he didn't want her disappearing or losing hope before he had a way to restore his honor. Zahi was an old-fashioned, chivalrous type, after all. He saw this as an obligation.

As she carefully formulated a response, a cab pulled up alongside the curb. Zahi slowly stretched an arm passed her and opened the door for her. She gave him a soft smile at the gesture of politeness, but her mind was troubled. Zahi could turn on her, or even worse, she could turn on Zahi, if they both underwent this scheme…

Then again, Zahi also knew the Follower hotspots, who the higher ups were, and it was a lot less suspicious if a former Immortal given hope against his will was trying to reclaim dark power than a Daughter of the Moon. As much as she hated to admit it, she needed him. And it made something flop around in her stomach queasily.

"I'm going to be at The Dungeon tomorrow at eight," she settled on at last, her voice very soft.

Something like happiness flickered across Zahi's features, before he gave a grim nod, "I will be there." He paused, debating something as she got in the cab. He appeared to decide against whatever it was that he was going to do, as he gently closed the door after her, "Be careful." She heard him whisper, before the cab vanished in the night.

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AN: Author's note at the end this time! What can I say, I like to mix it up. Er, anyways, keep in mind that the way Serena views things (such as certain French/former Immortal's intentions) are not necessarily the way that they are, if you catch my drift ; )

Thanks to all the readers and especially those who took the time to review. It brightens my day : )