Marius cleared his throat as he walked into the room he had put aside to act as a temporary office, crossing his arms as he studied the back of Bennett.
Bennett turned around and chuckled, “beautiful view,” he gestured over his shoulder to the wall of windows. “How long are you staying here this time?”
Marius rolled his shoulders, not answering him – that was his way.
Bennett lifted his eyebrow then shrugged a shoulder in response as he accepted the silence. “Why did you call me here? I know it’s not for my sparkling personality,” he flashed a grin as he walked away from the windows before dropping into a chair. He stretched out, crossing his feet at his ankles, taking up all the room he could.
Marius stood there, amusement dancing in his eyes as he watched Bennett make himself at home. “You have someone.”
“Oh, goodie, a new person to shadow. Tell me.”
Marius had a moment of hesitation, “She’s an angel.” He drew out his phone and tapped a couple buttons before pocketing the phone again. “All the information you need,” he gestured to Bennett, expecting that the other man would understand his point.
“And what am I supposed to do with this information?”
“Don’t let her fall.” Marius said simply.
“Don’t let her fall. Wow. Totally easy.” Bennett shook his head as he ignored the urge to scramble for his phone.
Marius chuckled, a rumble in his chest, before turning away, “we don’t need more falling. Go find her, she’ll be at the farmer’s market in a hour. She can’t help it.”
Bennett studied Marius’ back for a moment before forcing himself to his feet, he knew he was being dismissed. He should take it personal, but he didn’t. “Okay,” he nodded, “any time frame?”
“Don’t let her fall, Bennett. You’re one of my best.”
Bennett lifted his eyebrows, it was not often that Marius said his name – or anyone’s, really. He just bobbed his head and turned away toward the door, he would let himself out of the house without being seen. That was what they did, they were shadows – some were just better at it than others.
The farmer's market. She loved it, and came every day at the same time. It was the busiest time for the market, just after so many people were able to get away from their jobs to shop for the evening's meal. It meant so many more people to watch, to study. It meant so many more people to learn from.
She loved them. More than she was supposed to. But Seren wasn't sure she cared. Not really.
Seren drifted through the market slowly, barely noticed by anyone around her. She wasn't invisible, not really. Just...a subtle suggestion to those around her that she was so ordinary that she slipped from their thoughts as soon as they noticed her. It made it easier to watch the humans go about their lives. And, sometimes, one of the other creatures that shared the city with the humans would move past her. But they, without exception, paid her as little attention as the humans.
Yet, something prickled at the edge of her senses. Despite her careful, subtle touch of power, someone was watching her slow path through the market. Seren didn't react, not outwardly, to the feeling. She was in no danger, she was certain of that. She'd have been able to sense ill intent. Instead, there was curiosity, interest, and something else she was unsure of. Whoever it was not only properly saw her, but knew what she was.
The curiosity made her curious in turn. She wanted to find whoever it was that was watching her, whoever was capable of seeing past her touch of magic and able to truly see her. She stopped in the middle of the market, letting the people flow around her. She paid them no mind, now. Her attention was only for that sense of being watched, and the soul behind it. Closing her eyes, she allowed herself, her essence, to reach out and follow the attention focused on her to its source.
A man. A human man, watching her. A man who did, indeed, know what she was. A man who held so many secrets within his mind. She was tempted to look at them, to try to touch them. But to do so would likely make him realize something was happening, so she left them alone. For now. Instead, a gentle smile touched her lips, and she opened her eyes, turning to look directly at the man. Seren made a beckoning gesture, one she'd seen humans use so many times, and then she turned and made her way to a bench set a bit apart from the press of the crowd.
Then, she sat, and waited to see what the man would do.
The records on his phone opened after he ran an encryption key on it – without the encryption, it looked like a plain grocery list, like the kind a man would get from his wife. Especially with “don’t forget the milk!” in large letters and bolded font. The information was simple: a picture of the angel, her name, some basics that the Talamasca was able to glean without outright going to the source.
Curious. Innocent. In danger of falling.
And they had sent Bennett, which both confused and amused him at the same time.
It had been a quick hour, the Angel showed up and she shimmered. She fucking glowed, Bennett wanted to crow out in laughter the moment he saw her, it was like stars falling around her head. He shook his head, trying to be inconspicuous as he conferred with some of the booth owners, buying some fresh fruits and vegetables. He considered flowers for a moment, it’d brighten his gloomy little studio a bit… then decided against it.
Especially when he noticed her taking notice of him.
He nodded quickly, almost imperceptibly as he tucked the large paper bag under his arm while strolling casually toward the Angel. He acted as if he were interested in the wares being hocked around him, managing to keep the flow of the traffic without holding anyone else up behind him. Then when he reached the bench she perched on, he sat down, pulling out some apples. “Apple?” He offered one to her while biting into one of his own – the bag in between them now.
He nodded to her, the slightest of motion of his head, and then began to wander her way. It amused her, his play at being casual, when everything about him screamed out his interest to her. She wondered, just briefly, what it was he thought he needed to hide from. No one else was paying attention to her – of course – and no one else was paying any attention to him, either. Still, if he was so worried...
He sat down beside her, the bag of his purchases between them, as she draped a touch of her power over him, extending the same sense of normal, ordinary, nothing to see here to him as she draped over herself. Perhaps he would notice, perhaps not. Again, she had to resist touching his thoughts to find out. He was interesting, just by virtue of having been able to notice her when he never should have been able to. He made her curious.
“I don't really need to eat,” she murmured, her tone almost a gentle rebuke. He knew what she was. She suspected he would know that, as well. But, then again, maybe not. Humans had so many myths about her kind, and so few of them were right. Still, despite her words, she reached out and took the apple from him, her fingers brushing against his as she did so. Seren's eyes widened as that brief contact let her glimpse what he saw when he looked at her.
Here was, in her own experience, a new thing.
“Who are you?” The words were barely more than a whisper, filled with innocent wonder. “How do you do that? See me, really see me. Tell me about it, please? I've...never known a human to be able to see past my trick before.”
“It’s just an apple,” Bennett responded in turn with a laugh and a roll of his shoulders, “more for me.” He was ready to pull it away when she reached out for it, so he stilled his hand. A crinkle of his nose as he watched her movements, they were full of grace. Angels were a curious sort, he never understood how they could exist without free will.
He cleared his throat as she picked the apple out of his hand, fingers brushing against fingers. He could feel her in his head, a slight brush of something before it faded away.
He lifted his eyebrows. “You shouldn’t be in heads without asking,” he admonished gently as he let his hand drop into his lap while biting into the apple again. He chewed slowly without saying anything for a moment as he listened to the words she had just said; the wonder touching something inside of him. “Some of us are wired to look past the tricks,” he shrugged, “not all of us are dreamers and gullible people; some of us know the truth.” He tapped his nose, “some of us know the tricks more than the magician himself.”
Then he spoke again. “How did you know I was watching you?”
She lowered her eyes to the apple in her hand, considering as she stared at it. She knew, of course, how much humans – and most of the other races that most humans were unaware even existed – valued the curious concept of privacy. She tried, so often, to respect that, as she respected them. But, sometimes, she just couldn't help it. Still, she felt an odd feeling when he rebuked her, no matter how gently he did so. Guilt, she supposed. It was a very strange feeling. “My apologies. I didn't mean to. It just...happens sometimes, with some humans, when I touch them. I try not to. It can be...unpleasant.”
She turned her eyes back up to regard him as he explained. There was something she felt was not quite honest in his explanation, though he seemed to be speaking the truth. It was a strange dichotomy. Was he lying and able to hide it from her? Or...was he speaking what he thought was truth, even if there was more to it? Again, she had to resist reaching out to him to find out, his admonishment fresh in her mind, though that urge probably showed clearly in her expression.
She blended in so much, faded into the background, that she'd never had any reason to learn to hide her thoughts and feelings from her face, or from her body language. She wasn't even aware of how much she gave away. Then again, she probably wouldn't have cared even if she had been aware.
“Oh, I could feel it. It's...” She paused, trying to think how to explain it to someone who likely had no frame of reference for what she experienced. A small frown knitted her brow as she focused on the problem, her eyes growing distant, though no less intense for that distance. “It's a prickling all over my skin. Like when you touch brambles. It doesn't hurt, but it's hard to ignore. I feel that if someone is focusing on me.”
She smiled at him then, her focus returning to him full force. “It's not something I feel very often. Not for a very long time. I've never met anyone that could see me like you do. Not...in my entire existence.” She stared at him in silence a moment, then added quietly, almost as though afraid of being overheard by someone, “I'd...like to know you. I'd like to know more about you. Everything about you. You're...different. It's fascinating.”
Bennett shrugged a bit, “it’s like feeling a sensation in there, rubbing up against something really soft then it leaves an echo. With me, it goes away quickly, but I know with some people, it just spirals out of control. To a point of madness,” he looked at her as she kept looking down at her apple. “That’s why I say you should be careful,” he chuckled. “I don’t mind, the soft is nice. But ask,” he looked at her, “sometimes there are things that should not be seen.” He held up the hand with the apple, “and before you get all curious, just ask. I’ll tell you,” he shrugged once more.
“However,” he squinted, “if you ask a question, I get to ask a question.”
He shifted a bit in his seat, sprawling out again as if he owned the bench and the pavement underneath. He studied his apple before biting into it again while he listened to her speak. A slow nod, “I see things the way you feel things. Not auras, but just a something to them,” he chuckled, “that’s how I can track things.” He looked over at her with a grin.
“I’m kinda like a bounty hunter,” he finished his apple and placed it into the bag, he’d throw it away later. “I’m fascinating?” Bennett laughed out loud, tilting his head back as he did, shaking his head when the laugh died; but it continued in his eyes. “No one has ever told me that before,” there had definitely been choice words – but fascinating had never been one of them.
“I’m just Bennett, and you are?” He tilted his head at her, pretending he didn’t know already.
“I...didn't know. I truly didn't.” There was another unfamiliar feeling; remorse, she guessed. Like guilt, but...not quite. She wondered if she'd inadvertently hurt humans in the past, just by touching them. Unconsciously, in response to that thought, she shifted slightly away from him, despite that the bag was there keeping them from accidentally touching.
“A question for a question? A trade. That seems...fair.” She nodded agreement, excitement shining in eyes now turned to him. In truth, getting to freely ask a human questions delighted her. She watched, endlessly watched, but...she could count on one hand – as she'd heard humans say in the past – the number of times she'd truly gotten to speak to a human. And never, ever when that human had known what she was.
She almost asked what a bounty hunter was, what it meant, what...exactly...it meant he hunted. But she held her tongue, not entirely sure she wanted to know the answer to that question. After all, he'd been watching her, focused on her. And he knew what she was even then. Did it mean he was hunting her?
His laughter captivated her, bringing forth a bemused smile. “You are. At least...to me. I've lived...a very long time. It isn't often I see something so new to me.” She raised the apple and bit into it absently, as she'd seen him do, studying him as she did, enjoying the way his amusement lit his eyes, making it seem as though his soul was shining from them.
And then she was immediately distracted with the taste, the texture, the very experience of the apple. She chewed the bite slowly, eyes narrowing as she tried to understand the experience. She blinked, forcing herself to respond to him, wonder once again touching her voice as she spoke. “Bennett. I'm...called Seren.” There was a moment's hesitation, then a shy smile. “It means star.” Well, it meant more than that, but it was as close as she could come in a human language.
“I have a question. And then you get to ask me one,” she stated, remembering the trade, and eager to honour it. “What will you do with the things you learn from me with your questions?” Her eyes crinkled a bit as she laughed softly, imagining he would be surprised by her choice of first question. But, she genuinely wanted to know.
“Always a first time for everything,” he nodded somewhat as he wiped his hand off on his pants, shaking his head for a moment. Then his eyes settled on her, “you didn’t know before, it wasn’t malicious,” he chuckled, “so don’t worry too much.”
He watched her eyes dance, “right,” he nodded, “fair.” He waited for her to ask a question, but nothing came forth – just her turning thoughts and questions around in her head. How many of them were there? Would she burst like a dam?
“A long time? How long?” He paused, holding up two fingers, meaning she had two questions she could ask now, a rueful little look on his face. He hadn’t meant to pepper her with questions, he had meant to just observe her behavior and formulate a plan to keep her from falling – as per his orders. But there they were, sitting there and talking – as if they were old friends. His eyes took her in while she seemed to marvel over the apple, he was forgotten for that time and it amused him. She really was like a child, almost like a toddler.
He really would have to watch her.
“Seren,” he turned her name over in his mouth, nodding as he did so. “It’s nice to meet you, Seren,” he nodded at her with a smile that danced on his lips. Then a laugh came from him again, she surprised him with the question, it hadn’t been something he had expected. He thought it would be something like `why is the sky blue?`.
“What will I do with them?” He laughed again with a shake of his head, “I will make a plan,” he studied her, “see what I can do about you.” He was honest in that one while lifting his shoulders, “I was supposed to meet you, and I did. I found you and now I have to figure out how not to lose you.” Again, truth.
Just not the entire truth.
“Why are you here, not up there?” He lifted his eyes skyward.
Her lips twitched when he held up the two fingers, amusement dancing in her eyes. This game of questions would be fun, she could see that now. And that was really how she saw it, a game she could play with him. Games, they were yet another thing about humans, mortals in general, that fascinated her. She understood that they could be both entertainment, and education. This game of questions, in her view, fit both purposes. She could learn from him, and he from her. And it was already entertaining.
“A very long time. Longer than humans have lived on this part of the Earth. I don't know the count of years. We don't keep track as humans do.” As she answered, she'd held up her free hand, two fingers up, then one, before she let her hand drop again. Both of his questions – which she would have considered one had he not counted them off for her – answered.
She returned his smile when she'd turned her attention back to him, delighted by the way he said her name. She'd never heard a human speak it before – nor any mortal, for that matter, but she tried to think strictly of humans lest she speak of things she wasn't supposed to. Then again, she'd agreed to answer his questions, so, it could happen anyway, she supposed – and found the thought didn't really bother her the way it should.
“It's...nice to meet you, Bennett.” She only stumbled slightly over the phrase, having heard it before, many times, but never having had occasion to use it herself. The words themselves were genuine, she truly did mean she had found it nice to meet him. He was pleasant company, and she was enjoying herself in ways she'd not imagined having a conversation with a mortal could be like.
And, despite that she wasn't supposed to speak to humans, she had imagined it. Many times.
And there it was; his laugh again. Something about it made her feel very good, like a warmth that came from inside and filled her up. She realized she wanted to make him laugh as much as she could, just to make that feeling come. The more it happened, the more she might understand it, and what it meant. And that was what she most wanted, to understand, she thought, as he laughed yet again.
His answer was honest. He was telling the truth. Though, again, there was that sense that there was more there, something he wasn't saying. But, he'd answered her question, so she said nothing. She still felt no sense of ill intent from him. Whatever he was hiding, it wasn't something meant to harm her. Privacy, she thought, bemused. No matter how strange she found it, she would try her best to respect it.
Her head tilted to regard him seriously. “Why would you lose me?” She paused, then a pleased smile flitted across her lips as she held up a finger, silently acknowledging a point to him in the questions game. “You know my name now. I gave you my name,” she emphasized, as though there were a special meaning to her having told him her name personally. She did this because there, of course, was a special meaning to it. Only, it never occurred to her to explain further. “You can't lose me.”
Her hand dropped back down, and she lowered her eyes, thinking about how to best answer his question. This was one she wasn't sure she wanted to answer. And, more so, she wasn't quite sure how to answer. He'd been honest with her, though, and she felt she owed him the same, no matter how uncomfortable it made her to admit to this human things that she could never say to her own kind. Yet, as she thought about it, she realized it didn't make her nearly as uncomfortable as it, perhaps, should have.
“I...love humans, mortals,” she admitted quietly, turning her eyes back up to meet with his. “We're supposed to. But I...think I feel it differently from most of the rest of my kind. Not cold and distant and out of duty and responsibility, but with a....warmth, a joy in all the things you do and accomplish despite your frailty and short lives. I want to learn everything I can. I come to watch, as often as I can, for as long as I can.”
Her eyes flicked away briefly, searching the people moving past them, then, back to him again. “I find myself wanting to stay, more and more. To stay and...never go back.” There. She'd said it, what should never be said. She admitted it to this mortal, aware it had gone well beyond just answering his question. But it felt good to say it aloud. Somehow, it felt better to say it to Bennett, to this particular human, who was quickly gaining her trust.
She sighed softly, her attention dropping back down to the apple in her hand. Suddenly, the broken flesh where she'd bitten into it seemed ugly to her. Frowning, she touched it with the power that was a part of who and what she was, and the apple was whole again, beautiful again. Her lips curved into a smile of simple pleasure, and she looked back up to Bennett, joy shining in her eyes, holding the now-whole apple out to him.
Like so many things, she wasn't supposed to show that power to humans. Really, there'd been no reason to do it. Except...that she wanted to. She wanted to make it whole again, beautiful again. And she wanted to share that with this human. That simple; she liked him, and she wanted to share that with him.
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