Need to Clarify
Summary: KtR14. "You really don't understand, do you?" Doesn't Rese understand or doesn't she want to?
Warning: Where the hell is the fluff coming from so suddenly? Ah, well, it's probably the Christmas happiness. Edit: Written more than half a year ago... And it's Christmas again soon!^^
Set: Approximately four months before "Baits", story-unrelated
Disclaimer: Standards apply.
"Hi, I'm Julien. What's your name?"
Heartily, the young hunter shook Rese's hand and smiled at her. His dark hair was a shocking contrast to his fair skin and grey eyes and a scar ran from his temple to the side of his head. A white strand of hair stood out from the dark background and made him look… roughish. But there was nothing like the usual combination of a charming smile and arrogant air she knew of other hunters and therefore she didn't deem it unfit to smile back at him.
His grip, as anticipated, was warm and firm.
"Short form of what?"
"Rese." He seemed to taste her name on his tongue before smiling once again. "That's a nice name. Where are you from?"
"Actually, I'm from here. New York."
"I'm from Chicago. Nice to meet you!"
They stood a little awkwardly in the middle of the great hall that was bursting with people. Every hunter who could make it for the annual gathering had arrived, bringing noise and laughs and loud greetings and old rivalries and friendship and memories and old jokes and new anecdotes and was ready to share it with whomever was there to listen. The great hall, normally fit for accommodating fifty people, more or less, had been cleared of the huge table, the massive chairs and other furniture. Instead, a thousand lampions and garlands had replaced the serene, wooden walls and the antique picture frames. In the background, music was playing softly. Long tables had been placed at the walls of the room, laden with dishes, bowls, baskets and silver platters. It could have been a Prince's Ball Night and Rese silently wondered whether such events only took place in fairy tales or if this was real. And if it was, wasn't it too pompous, too exaggerated? Why did hunters invite for such a splendid evening if the only thing one gained was the fact that one had to squeeze oneself into a tight dress, was unable to move and suffered from the high heels of one's shoes? There was no sense in events like this, there was no sense in the dress Ten had forced her in and it made no sense to even be here. But Teresa was there and if she had allowed herself to be honest she would have to confess that she liked the display of splendor and drama.
She was a woman, after all.
Her dress was deep red and made from a velvety material she didn't know because it was so soft it would break at the first signs of strain and therefore unsuited for hunter's gear. It left her arms and most of her shoulders bare and fell down to her knees in soft waves. She was able to move in it and that was what mattered. Ten had dressed her up, made her make-up and done her hair and even though Rese didn't like to say so she really was amazed at the result her best friend had achieved. She looked stunning: her dark hair and her dark skin fit the color of the dress perfectly and the shoes weren't too high. Rese felt pretty, she felt warm and happy and she didn't mind the hunter that was currently speaking to her.
Rather the opposite. He was nice and polite and she had no one else to talk to right now. Ten was off with Marina, to find the guy Marina liked (but obviously never had talked to). Jaq and Jay hadn't arrived yet, neither had Cass. Terrance had taken Nadya to get something to eat and thus, Rese was left to herself in the bustling, hustling, dancing, talking crowd. Off and on, people would talk to her, greet her, introduce other people and leave again. Since she wasn't waiting for someone specific, and since she had the entire evening, she just let herself be taken up by the atmosphere.
"I was wondering," Julien was saying and his eyes shone, "whether demons in my place and demons in New York are different? I mean, you have the usual vampires and wolves and weirn, don't you, but I heard it needs extra training to go after Canadian Shai Demons. I once visited a friend in California and was able to witness a spectacular display of three nightmare demons… I've never seen anything like that before."
"Oh, if you're looking for strange things, go to Europe," Rese told him. Her eyes shone. "They have a kind of demon they call Waldgeist – something like a forest demon, but it resembles more a Daran than anything else. Point is: those things are fast! We spent a night chasing down a flock of them, and they had the cheek to mock us all the way… While throwing pine cones at us."
Julien grinned. "What did they do?"
Immediately, the smile vanished from her face.
"They abducted a kid. Thought it was funny to let it dangle from the top of the highest tree. They called it revenge. The people had started to uproot their forest."
"So, in a way, they had every right to be angry."
"They almost killed a five-year-old child. This world belongs to the humans, demons are only endured and they know it as well as you and me. They don't belong here."
"We aren't exactly human, either."
She turned to him, her eyes blazing from the heat of the building argument. She loved discussions. They made her blood run hot, her heart beat faster.
"We are the Blood of Eden. We have every right to be here, as much as humans have. We live here, we protect them. And as long as night things value the treaty, there's no problem."
Julien smiled. "You're right, of course. So – you have been to Europe?"
"Yes, for a few months."
"Wow! How was it? Where were you? Have you seen elves?"
"Elves?" Rese laughed out loud. "No, there aren't any elves in Europe either, sorry to disappoint you. But there are a lot of strange creatures. Take their Klabautermänner, a species of demons living on ships at the German coast. Or those strange French ones, I've forgotten their name… They hide as humans and help them cooking. They are peaceful, those ones, and love to create new food… There's a reason why France is famous for her restaurants! And the Spanish and Portuguese niebla demons… They're almost like Yhryu, but even harder to get at. They're not called mist demons for nothing."
"Wow. That sounds great! I wish I could travel to Europe once, or to Asia…"
"Well, if you can't, don't feel bad. I'm the only one from my Clave who went and there are only few hunters who ever leave the continent they were born on. There's just…"
"Too much to do," Julien ended her sentence with a sigh and a smile. "Well, at least it never gets boring, does it! But Europe has hunters, too, hasn't it?"
"Yes, of course. They call themselves Hunters, too, though their codex is a bit stricter than ours. But they're just as effective as we are."
"No false shyness," Julien snickered and took two glasses from a waiter, who was passing with a platter. Handing her one, he smiled again and lifted it.
"I'm glad I met you."
Rese returned his smile. "Again, likewise."
Talking to him felt good.
It was simple, so easy and familiar – she felt like talking to a brother or a sister and she was glad she had found someone to spend her time with. She had caught a glimpse of Ten and Marina, somewhere in the far corner of the hall, and Jaq and Jay had waved at her but had been swallowed by the crowd again. Rese shrugged and momentarily wondered where Cass was hiding. He never had liked gatherings like this but he usually appeared for a few hours and then disappeared again. Today, she hadn't seen him anywhere. Well, he'd find her if he wanted to, she guessed and tried to bury the little spike of anxiety (Hurt? What the…) that crept into her heart when she thought about him.
"So what is your day like?"
"My day? Like, what do I do here, in NY?"
"Yeah, something like that." He smiled again, a smile that made her want to answer the right thing.
"I hunt, of course, and when I've off duty I do what everyone else does. Life isn't spectacularly different just because it is in New York, you know…"
"It's not?" A laugh. "I thought it was. What a disappointment! I've heard so much about this city. Someone even called it the Center of the World."
"Well, the Council is seated here so there might be a point there. But we're by no means more special than other cities."
"You seem special."
Rese pulled up an eye brow. "I'm not, believe me. Except if you call a crazy person special. Cass always says…"
She interrupted herself. There. She had done it again – she had started to talk and hadn't known when to stop, ruining a perfectly nice conversation. It was exactly what had carried her into many difficult situations and she had promised herself to be careful about what she said. But she couldn't help herself – the words just seemed to flow from her lips as soon as she started to talk and she talked too fast in order to stop herself when her thoughts went astray. TMI, Ten called it, too much information.
Julien, intrigued either by her sudden silence or by her comment – she wasn't able to tell which it was – of course took her up on what she had said.
"Cass? Who's that?"
"Cassidy," she said, suddenly not feeling warm and calm and happy any more. "A… Clave brother of mine."
"Is he," Julien said and pulled up a brow. Even though he had no reason not to believe in what she told him – he didn't know Cass, after all – he didn't seem to think she was telling the truth.
"The way you said his name… What is he to you?"
Surprise welled up inside her and turned to annoyance quickly. (Not quite anger. Not quite, not yet.)
"Excuse me. I don't think I have to answer this question to a total stranger…"
"Of course not," Julien said apologetic and smiled disarmingly. "It was just… The way you said his name, he must be very important to you."
"He is," she said curtly. "He is like a brother to me."
Julien started to talk about safe topics once again but the evening was spoiled for Rese. She listened politely and suddenly wished he would leave her alone. But he smiled and laughed and went on talking and suddenly she was aware of the fact how close he had come. There was barely half a meter of space left between the two of them.
She made a step back but he followed smoothly.
"…Really a wonderful place," she heard him saying. "I'm sure you would like it there. I have known…"
Rese, helplessly staring over his shoulder and nodding once in a while, finally made out Nadya and Terrance in the hall and seized the opportunity.
"Julien, it has been nice talking to you, but I have to go now."
His face fell.
"Are you sure? I really enjoyed your presence and I thought it was mutual…"
"I'm sorry," she said curtly and put the almost untouched glass down on a near table. "Enjoy your stay in New York."
She turned away but he caught her arm in a tight grip.
"Please, wouldn't you…"
"She said she wants to go," a familiar voice interrupted him and both Rese and Julien swirled around to see the newcomer.
Cassidy didn't spare her a glance. His eyes were fixed on Julien alone and underneath the cool, green-eyed stare, the man started to shift uncomfortably.
"Hey, she was the one who…"
"I don't care," Cass told him again, ice now lacing his voice dangerously. Rese had never seen him like this. "Get lost."
And Julien complied.
"What's with you?" Rese threw an angry look at him, not sure whether to be plainly annoyed, merely surprised or justifiedly angry. "I was just getting rid of him already! There was no need to…"
"No need to what?" He interrupted her, finally turning to her and looking at her. He wore a plain, black suit and his normally unruly hair had been combed back neatly. He looked… different. So strange. Somehow… grown-up. When had he grown up? When had he stopped being the Cass she knew and had become Cassidy? Speechless, she stared at him and felt the tiny pang again. She grasped for appropriate words.
"No need to insult a fellow hunter?"
"Or no need to clarify?" He shot back. "Oh yes, there was, Rese. There was a great need to do just that."
"What are you talking about?"
Fury and a strange kind of… insecurity had replaced the last feelings of happiness and calm that had carried her so far this evening. Cass had this effect on her – he was either her best friend or her greatest opponent, infuriatingly calm and, at the same time, more offensive than she ever would be.
"Need to clarify," he said and closed in on the space between them until his face was only centimeters from hers. She fought the urge to fall back. This was Cass. She wouldn't back down.
Staring at him, she found herself mirrored in his eyes. Green. Deep and unreadable. Her breath caught in her throat. Cass stared back, something entirely strange in his eyes.
"That you're not interested in a relationship."
"Wha-" Surprise made her gasp. "He wasn't – he didn't even – it wasn't like that!"
"Wasn't it?" Cass replied and his eyes shrank to slits. "Then tell me what he wanted."
"He just wanted to talk, to…"
"Of course. He had absolutely no ulterior motives. Rese, sometimes I wonder how you have gotten through your life until here without falling victim to your own naïveté."
Familiar warmth boiled up inside her. Anger was the normal sentiment she felt when Cassidy was near. At the same time, exhilaration came. There was nothing like fighting her best friend. Nothing as familiar and strange and exhilarating and satisfying and…
"Thank you, Mister Experience! So if the genius knows that guy wanted to lay me, so what made him believe he knew what my answer would be?"
Cass pretended to be thinking.
"Maybe the fact that you haven't once had a lasting relationship for the last ten years?"
"What if I never wanted one?"
"You want one now?" His eyes were blazing. He was patient by nature but she was testing his boundaries. She knew she was the only person who could go that far, normally he never lost his cool. It was one of the things that made her blood run faster and her heart rate pick up when fighting him. "Excuse me if I interrupted. Let me get that stupid guy back so he can continue undressing you with his eyes and try to get you drunk. Which, as I could tell him, won't work since you don't really drink, and you can continue flirting and…"
"I wasn't flirting!"
Her first instinct told her to shove him into the next wall. She reminded herself where she was – this wasn't the training hall at home. The second one, not quite different, made her want to hit him – hit him hard – because even though they argued on a regular basis he never had spoken to her like that. She opened her mouth to continue and found she couldn't think of anything to say. Her brain was entirely empty. Her mouth fell shut again.
And suddenly he was smirking at her, sensing her rage and annoyance and insecurity. Wha-
She felt her cheeks heat up.
"No, you weren't flirting," Cass agreed. Anger had completely left his face and had been replaced by something… Something she had never seen in his eyes before. "You haven't once tried to seriously flirt with anyone as long as I know you. And I know the reason, too."
The sudden intimacy in his voice made her blush even harder.
"What are you talking about!"
"But of course you'd never say it yourself," he continued, still smirking. "Because you, Rese, already are in love with someone."
"Wha – I'm not!"
"And you're lying if you say you're not, and you know that…" – he came even closer – "As well as I do."
"You're lying! Shut up, I'm not…"
"Do I have to clarify, once again?" Her hand lashed out but he caught her fist easily. He leaned forwards until his breath tickled her ear and brushed the side of her face. His whispered words were so quiet she almost missed them.
Nadya and Terrance had been kept up by a few hunters who wanted to talk to them.
Terrance was just answering the questions of a foreign hunter who listened with rapt interest. Since she had nothing else to do, Nadya glanced through the crowd of dancing people and suddenly caught a look at Rese and Cass standing at the far side of the hall. She paused, confused. The crowd shifted and then let her catch a glimpse again but by then the image had already faded. Rese and Cass were standing next to each other, seemingly casual. Looking in two entirely different directions, they appeared perfectly normal. Two friends and Clave siblings on a council gathering, watching the crowd, content without needing to talk. There was just a hint of a blush in Rese's face and the ghost of a smile on Cass's.
Everything seemed normal.
Still, Nadya could have sworn that, a few seconds ago, the two of them had been kissing.
You are mine.
His lips were so soft she was too confused to hit him for his ridiculous claim.
(Though she wondered how it would feel if he kissed her again.)