Since there was a possibility of some walking, Kate decided on pants instead of a skirt—specifically, loose flowing comfortable lightweight ones she’d bought in Tullovar, of deep purple shades, and a sleeveless top of misty grey, with sandals instead of her low-heeled boots. Around her waist she tied a fringed black shawl embroidered on the outside with knotwork patterns in half a dozen colours, both because she liked how it looked and in case it grew cooler later. She pulled her chestnut hair back in a tail, hoping it would stay there, and studied herself in the mirror.
“Looking good,” Magda said appreciatively from the doorway. “Now, remember, he is from Riverwood, and you know what they’re like about being honest and up-front. That whole negotiation and compromise fetish they have. If you aren’t enjoying yourself, although I can’t for the life of me think why not, then just tell him, okay? Ditto for anything you aren’t comfortable with, or anything you do want.”
Kate nodded acknowledgement. Natives of the Riverwood area were known for the value they placed on honest communication, though they also believed in tact and timing and respecting boundaries, which kept everyone else from finding them insufferable. “I know.”
“I’m not going to wait up, because I do have to work tomorrow, and for all I know, you might not be back until well past midnight. If at all. If you go back to his place, make sure you play safe, all right? And give me a call in the morning at work, even if it’s just quick.”
“I’m not going to sleep with him! I hardly know him!”
Magda just shrugged and grinned. “If you change your mind, be safe. You have a bit of cash on you, just in case of something unexpected happening, right? Enough to get a cab home?”
“Then you’re all set to go have an awesome night.”
Damon arrived at the door just moments past six o’clock, in close-fitting black leather pants that she thought were from Darkside, with a plain black t-shirt and black leather jacket that were definitely Brightside—it was an amazingly sensual look, and Kate licked suddenly dry lips.
Damon greeted her with a warm smile. “Ready to go?”
Magda crossed her arms and gave him a stern look. “Are your intentions towards my best friend honourable?”
“You must be joking. I thought you knew me better than that.”
“Okay. Just so we’re clear on that. Off you go, children, and have fun.”
“Children,” Damon snorted, and opened the door. “After you, milady Kate.”
Damon’s car, waiting downstairs, turned out to be a sleek black hybrid, which somehow suited him.
“Are you still interested in going back to the Gryphon’s Nest?”
“I certainly have no complaints about it.”
She feared he would act differently, treat her more as a potential conquest or as though he had something to prove; she’d been through exactly those kinds of games with far too many men from either world or both. It was a painful prospect, when she was enjoying his company so much, and the way he simply accepted her as an equal.
He surprised her again: there was no change at all in his behaviour from the previous afternoon.
They were soon seated at a table for two at the Gryphon’s Nest, with the same woman smiling at them while she delivered water and menus.
“Something to drink?” she asked.
“Cider,” Damon said promptly. “And the mixed appetizer platter, please, before your other customers begin to look tasty. Someday, I swear, I’ll work out a schedule that’s comfortably nocturnal and fits better with daytime people.” His grin took any possible sting out of the words, turned it into a shared joke. “With two plates. Anything you shouldn’t eat, Kate? Mixed is seriously mixed.”
“Basic human, no allergies, I’m fine with anything. And cider for me too, please,” Kate said, and gave Damon a severe look as the waitress left. “Did you skip a meal? We could have done this earlier.”
“Not skipped, just postponed a little. If we had made it any earlier, I’d have an even harder time to keep from boring you until I can show you how the waterfront looks in the dark.”
Kate blinked. “Boring me?”
“You’re probably the most educated person I know. Now how can a simple website designer hope to keep you interested, hm?” He gazed at her solemnly. “If I begin to slip into computerese, please, kill me quickly. If I can do that under these conditions, then the infection has progressed to such a point that life is no longer worth living.”
“Computers are an infection?”
“Absolutely. It’s a slippery slope, from idle curiosity to casual use to addiction. A few of us who have low resistance go farther still, and I’m afraid there’s no cure. The end stage is an inability to discuss, or even think about, anything outside of computer terms. There is, however, some anecdotal evidence that a social life involving uninfected people can slow the progression dramatically.”
Kate tried her best not to laugh. “Ah, so I’m an attempted cure? I am certainly not infected, I know very little about computers.”
“Perfect! I’ll have to spend as much time with you as possible, for as long as possible. It’s a shame I already sent that email to every bothsider I know with Internet access to ask about possible jobs, maybe I could have delayed longer. With two hundred thirty-seven members of the mailing list—which I run, by the way—the chances of something turning up quickly are entirely too high.” He sighed dramatically. “Ah well, all in the cause of your future happiness.”
“Two hundred? You’re joking.”
Damon shook his head. “Not about that part. I really do look after a mailing list for bothsiders. It started with a few I shared email addresses with. When it became clear how many emails were going to the entire group, I set up the list to do it automatically—people can just send it to the list, and it goes to everyone from there. I met a few more, others asked to have friends added, and it snowballed from there. I don’t add anyone unless it’s been requested by someone I know is a bothsider and who’s been an active list member for a while. Occasionally someone grumbles that the vamp’s power-tripping, but so far, there’ve been no problems and everyone feels safe. It certainly gets word around quickly when someone needs a hand or has a question.” He flashed her a grin. “Or when someone is planning a party, for that matter. With any luck, someone will know of a job you could be happy in.”
“That’s amazing! And much, much faster than the old-fashioned way. If I stay on Brightside, I might have to look at getting a computer. And learning to use it.”
“If you stay on Brightside, I’ll help with both. It’s getting pretty hard to function these days without Internet access.”
The appetizer platter, when delivered, had a mixture that had probably been planned to have something to appeal to any of the common sentient species and their varied dietary preferences. She left most of the more carnivorous-type snacks for Damon, but helped herself shamelessly to the more vegetable ones—and the cheese, since he avoided it.
After appetizer, supper, and a final drink to let everything settle, Damon paid and they wandered out into the evening. The sun was down, the shadows deepening and the breeze cooler than earlier, but not uncomfortably so.
Blissfully relaxed after the past couple of hours of both laughter and fascinating conversation, Kate slid a hand around Damon’s arm and kept pace beside him, letting him choose their path.
“How much can you actually see, in this light?” she asked, and instantly wondered if that was rude.
Damon, luckily, didn’t think so. “Less colour than in daylight, but considerably more detail. Most of the time I keep my apartment only a little brighter than this.” He glanced down at her, and chuckled. “All the better to see you, my dear.”
“I’m out for a walk with the big bad wolf, hm?”
“Maybe the wolf wasn’t bad, only misunderstood.”
“Most people are,” Kate sighed, but with no real force behind it. Losing her job was worth it, since it led to tonight.
They walked mostly in comfortable quiet, other than Damon pointing out an occasional sight of interest, until they reached the waterfront.
In no hurry at all, Damon chose a route across the park, cutting past the large fountain with its lights, past the two-hundred-year-old defensive wall facing out towards the water.
“Do you bring women down here a lot?” Kate teased. “I get the feeling you have this whole walk planned.”
Damon shook his head. “I don’t really spend much time these days taking anyone anywhere. I come down here when I want to be outside and think. It’s very peaceful after dark.”
“Very,” Kate agreed. There were a few people around, but they were staying in the better-lighted areas, near the fountain and the street, and the two of them had the shadows to themselves.
A paved path ran along the edge of the water, and they strolled along it. Below, in the water, an occasional fish broke the surface to grab a low-flying insect; above, bats swooped and dove, or at least Damon said they were bats, though to Kate’s eyes they were only small dark shapes that could just as easily have been swallows having a late dinner. Far out, she could see the lights of what Damon said was a ferry, gliding along silently, and beyond that, the white and yellow mosaic of lights that marked the far shore. Was there anyone over there walking along the water’s edge, enjoying the evening? There was no chance they were having a more wonderful time than she was.
The path took a couple of turns along the side of a tall hotel, and became a walkway under the hotel but still open to the water; dim yellow lights overhead only made the shadows deeper. They paused for a few minutes to lean against the railing, looking at the reflections below of the lights above.
“All those people up there,” Kate murmured. “Going about whatever they’re doing…”
“The floor directly above us is a very expensive restaurant,” Damon supplied. “The food is terrible, though.”
“Paying huge amounts for bad food, thinking about being here on business or with their family. And how many of them are bothsiders or gifted or not human, but pretending otherwise?”
“It’s only another set of things to hide behind a mask,” Damon said softly. Kate was utterly conscious of the way his body had warmed the leather of his jacket, where it touched her bare arm. “And in western Brightside society, among others, the single greatest set of things to hide is anything to do with sexuality and gender. How many of them are unhappy being the sex they were born, or unhappy in a relationship with the other sex? How many of them have fantasies, but fear them so much that they never learn the difference between fantasy and reality, and believe deep down that they are weak, or cruel, or mentally ill, when all they truly want is freedom?”
“That’s an excellent point,” Kate said thoughtfully, pushing away her own fantasies that wanted freedom, thwarted not so much by fear as persistent solitude. “In a country that guarantees so much freedom, society itself can still build barriers just by constructing blind spots. When it isn’t all-out telling people what to think, like convincing them that they’re really sinners if they can’t accept chapter and verse of a religion as absolute truth.”
“For all the many frustrations of being a bothsider and a halfbreed, I would not trade it for anything. Being outside is not always comfortable, but at least it gives a better perspective.”
Kate shifted half a step towards him, not thinking about what she was doing, and slipped an arm around his waist in a sympathetic half-hug. “Everyone has frustrations. Some of them are just more common, and there are more people to share them with.”
Damon returned the hug, one-armed as well. “One is enough.”
Kate leaned against his shoulder, gazing at the glittering wave-rippled reflections without really seeing them. How could she feel like this about someone she’d only met the day before yesterday, such an overwhelming sense of resonance and trust?
After a long moment, without a word, they moved on, following the walkway further from the park, around the hotel.
This side faced only vacant land, and even the traffic sounds were muffled by the bulk of the building.
Damon paused, and said her name very quietly, questioningly. Unready, Kate got a step past him, and turned around to see what had prompted that.
Damon’s hand cupped her cheek, a warm light touch, and he kissed her, the barest gentle brush of his lips against hers. Reacting completely on instinct, Kate shifted her weight forward, and reached around him to steady herself, her eyes closing as Damon responded to the invitation. His other arm slipped around her, drawing her closer, and her lips parted under his. She was acutely aware of every inch of his body against hers, of the scent of him and taste of him. Without ever breaking contact, but vaguely aware that better support would be a very good idea right now, she backed towards the wall, one slow step at a time. Damon stayed with her, his hand moving to cushion the back of her head and his other arm protecting her bare shoulders from the rough cement, while still keeping her close. Her protest when he turned his head died unvoiced when she felt his breath warm against the side of her throat, heard how hard and fast he was breathing, just before he pressed a kiss directly over her jugular vein.
Kate wondered whether he could feel the wild pounding of her heart, excitement and desire, and the sudden realization that she was utterly alone in the darkness with a nocturnal carnivore with a notorious, if sporadic, taste for blood, one she’d met only forty-eight hours ago. It wasn’t fear, not exactly, every instinct rejected the idea that he would do her any harm, but the sense of vulnerability only strengthened the intensity of her reaction. Heat and wetness between her legs, a tightening she hadn’t experienced in a long time…
“You smell so good,” Damon murmured, with another light kiss at the base of her jaw. “So… very… good. It feels like forever… And no one would know except you and I.” Another kiss on her throat, the same place as a moment before, and Kate shivered. She couldn’t have gotten away if she tried, caught between Damon and the wall… but he hadn’t cornered her, the wall had been all her own idea… and if she told him to stop, to let her go, would he? She would have been terrified if she honestly believed the answer to that question was ‘no’. Teeth grazed her skin, and she was sure she felt two very sharp points. Being rationally aware of tenebran canines, needle-sharp but fragile so they extended only at need, didn’t even begin to touch on the reality. She closed her eyes again, unresisting, her breathing coming rapid and shallow and her entire body quivering with tension and anticipation, and wondering what it would feel like…
Damon nipped her earlobe, very gently. “Which is it, exactly. You and I would know, and I would very much prefer that you still trust me tomorrow.” One more kiss, on her lips this time, and he carefully released her, backing up a pace.
Kate didn’t move immediately, waiting until she thought she could stand by herself before stepping away from the wall. “I think… I think that’s enough of a walk for tonight. Other than back to your car. And I haven’t the faintest idea where it is from here.”
“Not so far,” Damon said. “We’ve gone in a kind of loop.”
The breeze felt very cold after the heat of Damon’s body and her own. Kate fumbled her shawl free and wrapped it around her shoulders before falling into step beside him.
There really wasn’t anything to say, as they followed the walkway. With anyone else, the moment could have been an awkward one, heavy with uncomfortable silence and the weight of what could have happened, or worse, with guilt and fear. Somehow, it wasn’t; she tucked her hand around his arm again, he laid his free hand over hers for a brief squeeze. Moments later, they went up a slope and back onto the street in front of the hotel, back to lights and people; somehow, what had happened in the shadows felt like a delicious shared secret, something only they knew, rather than something to pretend never occurred at all.
“Home to Magda?” Damon asked, when they reached the car—as promised, it was closer than she’d expected and they didn’t have to retrace the entire walk. “It’s only a bit past ten, she may even still be up.”
Kate pondered that while she settled herself in the passenger seat. She found herself reluctant to lose his company already. “Are there other options? Ones not involving large crowds?”
“You could come home with me, and we can find a movie to watch. There have been a few good ones in the past six years that I imagine you’ve missed.” He hesitated, just for a heartbeat. “If you’re okay alone at my place, that is.”
“That sounds much better.” Possibly reckless, but it was impossible to feel as though she might be in any real danger.
Had the seats allowed it, Kate thought it would have been nice to sit closer to Damon, whether actually touching or not; since she couldn’t, she asked him what movies she’d missed.
They spent the drive comparing movies she’d seen and enjoyed to what was available that she hadn’t yet seen, some of which had come out before she’d taken the job in Tullovar and others more recently.
“There’ve been a few rather good TV series over the past few years, too. And instead of having to wait for them to come on TV, it’s easy enough to binge-watch the whole series online.” He glanced at her, speculatively. “Hm, if I were to chain you up and keep you, at least I could see to it that you were entertained for some time to come.”
“If a job doesn’t turn up, I just might let you.” She pretended to herself that the mention of chains hadn’t given her a brief internal shiver.
“Why, oh why, did I send that email to the list?” Damon sighed regretfully, then laughed. “Try not to worry about that. I have no doubt that something will appear. Perhaps you should simply enjoy the vacation.”
“I am, now,” Kate said softly. “Thank you.”
“For enjoying your company? You’re very welcome.”
Damon, as it turned out, lived in an apartment building some way from downtown. He unlocked the glass security door, and they took the elevator to the fourth floor. Just inside his apartment, he flipped a switch, bringing the room from dark shadows to muted light.
“Enough light, or more?” he asked.
“This is fine,” Kate assured him. It would have been too dim to allow her to read comfortably, but it was enough for her to generally see where she was. It was rather restful, actually. Most of one living room wall was covered with heavy floor-length drapes in dark grey and navy brocade, though at the far end, they were drawn back far enough to allow a refreshing cross-breeze between the patio door and a small window at the other end of the L-shaped room. One corner held an outright daunting amount of computer equipment, which seemed to be centred around a three-sided desk, one side with the drapes behind it.
“Make yourself at home,” Damon said, gesturing in the general direction of a black metal futon couch with a dark red cover, a woven blanket of multiple muted colours folded more or less neatly over its back and a few pillows of a range of sizes piled at either end. He fished a phone out of the inside pocket of his jacket—she recognized it only because Magda had one, since they’d been less universal and looked different even six years ago—and plugged a thin cable into it before leaving it on the desk.
Kate took a step towards the couch, but hesitated. “Bathroom?”
“Back past the door and straight ahead.” He hung his jacket absently on the high back of the office chair in the corner, and sat down to do something arcane on the computer.
She passed two other doors, next to the bathroom—there wasn’t really enough light for her to see much about them, though the doors were open. Whatever Damon was doing with all those computers must be paying fairly well, although it made sense that working from his home meant needing more space.
She used the—recently cleaned?—bathroom quickly, and returned to the living room, to find Damon perched on the office chair. He glanced up from the screen, which looked a lot thinner and more lightweight, and also larger, than she remembered, and smiled, as she crossed the parquet floor to the futon.
From there, she could see that the wall opposite the curtained one had been painted with a rather impressive mural of a forest scene, a trail winding along the wall towards a riverbank, all of it washed with deep shadows and the sky colourful with a violet and rose sunset.
“My dad and my sister, between them, making sure I remember home. Half of Etri’s Rapids and a fair number of buildings in nearby towns and villages have Dad and Raizel’s work in them. Found it. One Discworld movie, coming right up.” He turned the computer monitor so that it faced the opposite direction, brought a rectangular device with assorted buttons that didn’t look like any remote control she’d ever seen, and joined her on the couch. “I doubt you’re any hungrier than I am, after all we ate, but would you like anything to drink? Pepsi, orange juice, ice water, white wine from Etri’s Rapids in Riverwood, tea of a silly number of kinds from all over both worlds?”
“Mmm. I’ve heard about that wine, never had a chance to try it.”
Damon left the device on the couch—it looked to her more like part of a computer keyboard, that part with all the numbers on one side—and vanished into the kitchen. He returned a moment later with two bronze cups, a style common on Darkside, with a short heavy stem, the bowl and foot of equal diameter and the bowl deep and gracefully curved, inlaid around the outside with a pewter spiral pattern. He held out both, allowing her to choose—a Darkside thing again, left over from a less peaceful era, but oddly appropriate in an age and world of date rape drugs. She took one and tentatively tasted the wine inside.
“Oh, this is lovely!”
Damon chuckled, sitting beside her again. “It would be worth making the trip home for all by itself.” He took a sip, then did something one-handed on the device with the buttons that brought the monitor to life, flipped through screens too fast for Kate to follow, and seconds later, the monitor showed only the warnings and such at the beginning of a movie. “I told you I have computerosis in an extreme and incurable form,” he laughed, sitting back. “Comfortable?”
Careful not to spill her wine, Kate tugged at a couple of pillows until they were supporting her better, and nodded. “Extremely. Any time you’re ready.”
Damon hit a final button, laid the device down, and leaned back.
The movie quickly captivated her. Some way into it, having finished her wine, she found herself stifling yawns. Damon paused it with a touch, looked at her sympathetically.
“It’s near midnight, I’m not surprised you’re tired.”
“I’m all right. Magda’s a morning person, and sleeping on her couch has turned me into an unwilling one. But I wouldn’t be able to sleep until I know what happens, anyway.”
He grinned. “Told you they did an awesome job. And Tim Curry is just so damned good at being a villain.” He pulled some of the pillows out of the corner behind him, tossed them on the floor, and shifted towards the end. “There’s room to lie down, plenty of pillows, and a blanket behind you. Just throw any you don’t want on the floor.”
That did sound better. She moved the pillows, keeping one small one with a triangular cross-section, then hesitated. Which end to put her head towards? Away from Damon would be the safe route, but she really didn’t want to. He waited patiently while she curled up, not quite touching his leg, and arranged her shawl over her upper body, and only once she was clearly settled did he start the movie again.
“This is much nicer than a movie theatre,” Kate murmured.
“I think so, too.”
Continued in Brightside 4, in which Kate and Damon continue to get to know each other on multiple levels… and, of course, flirt. Or hunt. Or something like that.