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World of Darkness: The Academy - Late-Night Consolations [Complete]

Frida Ricci

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He'd made it about halfway through cleaning the mess of the ransacking before he was interrupted. He smelled her first - because of his current mood his senses were on high alert. As always, the faint scent of paint and charcoals accompanied her, though her underlying scent was still the simple and clean scent of a young woman who didn't bother too much with perfumes or too many cosmetics. He could also smell fear - not the overwhelming stench of of prey, but the heightened caution of one who'd been recently attacked, and was hesitant to expose themselves to more danger. He smelled it all a few moments before she reached his door and knocked lightly, so as not to disturb anyone nearby. Her voice was a hushed whisper through the door.


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He paused with his hand halfway to the door handle.

On the one hand, he'd just been thinking about venting some of his stored-up frustrations. On the other, he was TRYING to be, if not good, then at least better for Mari's sake. He really, really didn't want to hurt her... But then, Frida was a friend as well. And there was a chance she was tapping on his door quietly at night simply because she wanted to talk. They hadn't really talked about what had happened, about how he'd nearly mauled her.

And really, his hindbrain supplied, it wasn't as though he'd promised Mari anything other than to not hurt her. And if she didn't know...

Introspective morality wasn't really Ravi's strong suit. Did he care about Mari? Certainly. Did he want her? Definitely. Was she ready for that? No. Did he like Frida? Yes. Did he want her? For sure. Was he going to open the door and try to juggle the consequences?

Damn straight he was.

Frida saw the door open and the pair of gorgeous green-gold eyes that had been haunting her thoughts more a little appear from behind it. Under them, a cautiously warm smile curved his lips as he regarded her.

"Frida." he said by way of greeting before opening the door a little wider so that she could, if she wished, slip inside. "Care to come in?"

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She nodded slightly, and slipped in past him almost silently. He closed the door behind them and turned around to face his moral temptations. Frida was wearing a soft grey nightgown - it looked vintage 20's-30's, enough to make him think it might actually be so, with a swath of see-through lace edging the v-cut neckline and a slight clinginess that was popular during the Jazz era. The young woman wearing it looked pale, her skin ivory and her dark eyes shadowed from what appeared to be more than one restless night - for surely she should be in bed by now, considering how early they were supposed to be up in the morning. Indeed, the phrase that came to mind when he looked at her was that she appeared haunted by something.. and then it struck him, firmly, that she was, in the literal sense of the word. Indeed, in her grey silk and ivory pallor and dark hair muted by the low light, Frida almost resembled at a glance one of the ghosts that she claimed to be able to see.

"I.. I hope you don't mind. I was having a difficult time sleeping, and..."

...and I don't know anyone else well enough to go knocking on the door at midnight.

"...and I thought you might not mind."

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"No, I don't at all." Ravi's smile was less cautious, more warm now as he took in her haunted expression. She just needs someone to talk to. "I was just picking up after someone unknown decided to tornado my room." His eyes flickered in annoyance once more as he looked around, the outrage of the incident running deeper than he realised, before focusing on Frida once more.

"Have a seat?" he invited. His eyes automatically scanned the slender curves moving beneath the sheer material of the nightgown as Frida picked the easy chair, sitting poised on the edge of the cushion as her dark eyes watched him gravely. He went and switched on the little electric kettle, then sat perched on the edge of his bed facing her, his legs folded Indian-style.

"I've got tea, chai, and hot chocolate. Oh, and some camomile that's never been touched." He quickly scanned his desk as he spoke, but seeing nothing else he could offer, he turned his attention back to his visitor, studying her for a long, comfortable moment. "How are you feeling?" he asked gently.

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"Perhaps the chamomile, thank you. Unless the tea is decaffeinated.. I haven't slept much in the last night or so."

She glanced around the room, a small scowl flickering across her features as she took in the destruction before focusing her gaze back on Ravi.

"I'm feeling.. tired. And.. I don't know.. kind of cold, and miserable, like I've spent too much time in London during the rainy season, perhaps. I don't know how else to describe it. I'm sorry about your room.. do you know who did it?"

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"No. Hence my referring to them as 'someone unknown'." Ravi's smile and shrug took the barb out of his words. "It was a hell of a shock, I can tell you. I came back here with Mari to do a little quiet studying - we were bothered in the library by someone - and the place was a mess." From the bland expression on Ravi's face, Frida could probably guess that 'studying' probably wasn't highest on the agenda.

"Anyway, the anger I felt at the sight triggered my change... Though not a berserk fit, thankfully. I just shifted shapes. Poor Mari was scared, but didn't run away screaming this time." He got up and brandished the ruined pair of jeans. "Look at this. Two hundred quid for a pair of jeans and one moment's outrage ruins them." He tossed them into the corner by the door, a growl rumbling in his chest, then looked faintly apologetic. "Sorry. It really annoys me, though." He stepped over to his desk and poured the tea, taking chamomile for himself as well. He hardly felt as though he needed caffeine right now. Coming over, he held Frida's mug out for her to take, then sat back on the edge of the bed, relaxing.

"The miserable feeling..." he began, his scintillant eyes on her face. "You think it's due to last night? What you saw, I mean."

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Frida shook her head slightly at his correction, looking sheepish.

"Yes, of course.. my apologies."

She waited until he had described the events, listening with a sympathetic frown lightly etching her features. But at his question it deepened, and she curled up a little further into the chair, pulling her legs up and tucking them up underneath her and sipped her chamomile tea before answering.

"Not just last night. I mean.. that was the first time I'd seen them.. everywhere, like that. Maybe they came to watch. I almost think I'd been seeing them.. I don't know." She shook her head, looking unsure of herself. "Regardless, I've been seeing them ever since. Today in the art class, and then.. when we went to speak with Pritchard, there were two there. And afterwards, I tried to find one, to.. to talk to one. To understand, and it was..."

Frida's voice trailed off as she heard that cold, empty noise in her head. It brought back the vague feelings of nausea and terror for a moment, and her whole body shuddered, curling in on itself more as she tried to find the words to explain, unaware that the haunted expression she wore and the timid, frightened way she held herself said it all.

"I don't know how to describe it. It was.. awful, Ravi."

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"I can't imagine it." the werepanther said quietly, gleaming eyes distant for a moment as he tried to before a blink and a shake of his head announced his abandonment of that line of thought. "Short of some movie-style special effects, but somehow I think those pale in comparison."

She was really upset, he noted with a strange pang of empathy. How bad it must have been, to unnerve her. She was usually so collected, so calm that she seemed ageless, but right now Frida was very much her age, a woman just out of girlhood. Whilst not the most compassionate of individuals (in fact, his detractors would say that if Ravi was smiling, someone somewhere had probably kicked a puppy. Which was probably a little unfair, but then consider how he must have torqued them off to say such a thing) Ravi wasn't a complete cold-blooded bastard. Especially where those he considered His were concerned. Friends, girls he still liked even when he wasn't having sex with them, family members, people he felt responsibility to (which were few and far between, but did exist - the other Dalton 'special cases' were beginning to slide into that category)... There was a list, and while being on it wouldn't necessarily spare you Ravi-ness, it could be said to be better to be on it than not.

In short Ravi, for all his faults, wasn't a bad friend to have... if one had the forbearance for it.

He came over and perched on the arm of the chair, leaning over and slipping an arm around Frida's shoulders before drawing her close to him. As far as bodily contact went, it was practically monastic by Ravi standards, but Frida felt the warmth of his body like an oven through the t-shirt he was wearing. The heat seeped through her skin and worked it's way around her bloodstream like a shot of strong brandy.

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She drew in a deep breath as she turned her head towards him and rested her head against his chest. Ravi was so alive - so vital and warm, it seemed to drive the chill away, and after a moment she sat the mug of tea down on the windowsill next to the chair, and wrapped her arms around him. She stayed like that for a long time, letting his presence scare the demons away, before she finally looked up at him.

"Thank you. I.. I normally call my parents if something is bothering me, but.. I don't feel I can tell them of this. They weren't from Dalton, they haven't experienced what it seems some of the other student's parents have. They've always trusted my sanity before, chalked up my.. differentness to "artistic eccentricities" and all that. But this is all very extreme. I'm afraid they'll think..."

She trailed off, but the implication was obvious. Being new to the school, he hadn't heard quite as many stories about "Freaky Frida" as he imagined many of the rest of them had. But genius was often associated with madness, and he had little doubt that the more banal patrons of the academy ever let her forget it.

"I didn't know who else to talk to."

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"Now that feeling I know something of." Ravi said in a wry tone as he slipped down to wriggle in next to Frida in the large comfy chair, still hugging her and not spilling a drop of his tea. "Waking up on the bank of a stream in a Colorado forest miles away, after running wild as a panther all night, my first thought was to run off into the wilderness and never look back in case I spent the rest of my life in a cage." He took a sip of his chamomile and grinned at Frida, his eyes glinting eerily as the light moved across them. The girl was struck by the phrase 'In sheep's clothing' as her artist's eye caught glimmers of the panther behind the face of the urbane young gentleman cosied up with her sipping tea.

"When I came back here, actually, I was planning to just sneak in through my window there, pick up some necessaries, and then hit the road before anyone was the wiser." He made a face. "When I got here, I found Renata and Mari waiting for me, then Dorn came around, then Ryan burst in, and finally one of Pritchard's flunkies called Reaver showed up and I was well-and-truly officially back in Dalton." He sighed, looking contemplative. "Sometimes... I'm not sure whether I regret that or not."

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She nodded slightly, shifting to make herself comfortable in the chair with him - it was big, and she was small, but it was still tight enough where she ended up almost in his lap, her curled-up legs resting against his thighs in order to accomodate them both.

"That makes sense. Running away from it all sounds awfully tempting.. except it sounds interesting, to be a panther. It's not interesting.. what I do." She hesitated at the words, and he could tell it brought back unpleasant memories to speak of it. So he hugged her a little lighter, encouraging her to go on, instead of lingering on the memories. "So I have to stay, if I want to figure out how to make it stop. Everything here is so complicated.. this issue with Swan, even Pritchard. She..."

Frida's lips flickered into a frown again, but more of a frustrated one than an angry one.

"I think she means well - she seemed very... protective? It was kind of insulting, in a way - as if we were infants who couldn't care for ourselves. The less we know the better, and all that. She wouldn't even contemplate working with us, or speaking to us about it really. I mean, she did tell use those few things, but.. it was quite aggravating. I feel that we have the same goal in mind - keeping people safe. But she wants the students 'safe' and 'out of harm's way', and to 'not get involved'. I'd like to see if she still felt that way if it were here turning into a panther, or seeing ghosts. She could certainly use a few lessons in teamwork. Or civility, for that matter."

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"Why should she be civil? She's the wicked witch of the Mid-West." Ravi said with a quirk of his lips. "Or something like that. She thinks she knows best and doesn't care who she steps on. Kind of an typical authority figure, squared." He squeezed Frida reassuringly, his hand patting her shoulder.

"I'm not going to lie to you on this: I'd much rather be me than be able to see the dead. But I can't fully control my 'gift' either. Or my instincts. Everything is a little overwhelming right now, every urge is more powerful, every sensation five times stronger. It's exhilerating, but part of me is worried that something will happen to make me go berserk like last night, and then..." he let his voice trail off for a second, then shrugged.

"But maybe you can learn to control it. To only see it when you want to." He set his mug down beside Frida's and brushed her hair back from her face with a warm palm, taking care to wipe away a small smudge of charcoal under her ear. "Just remember: you're not crazy, and you CAN see them, and you know other people equally strange. You're not alone, Frida."

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Frida nodded slightly, and he could see that her his words had set her mind at ease.. at least temporarily. Her cheek turned into his hand, and she let out a soft sigh.

"Yes.. you're right, of course. There are several of us going through these odd changes, you, and Ryan, and Ms. Dorn.. I wonder why only some of us, though? I mean, it seems a bit random, don't you think? Several of you were numbered - but I wasn't. So that's not it. It's all very strange."

He shrugged languorously, his thumb still running idly across her cheek, even though he'd removed the worst of the dark grey smudge.

"I haven't the foggiest, but I propose we try not to concern ourselves with it overmuch this evening. I surmise there's very little to be done about it till morning, anyway. And the longer you worry about it, the more difficult it will be to quiet your mind and get some rest. We'll find out more tomorrow, I'm certain."

Frida nodded again, and for a moment the two sat quietly, curled up in the chair together like two contented cats. They even sipped some more of their tea - Frida having retrieved hers during the silence. But then, finally, Frida broke it. With what was possibly the last topic Ravi wanted to discuss with the gentle, observant artist.

"So, are you dating Maria Palacios now? She seems quite taken with you, and since you went off together in the library, I got the impression that you might be together."

Surprisingly, both tone and gaze were neither threatening, nor accusing. If there was a touch of jealousy, it came across more as disappointment to Ravi's trained ears. It certainly wasn't the reaction he was accustomed to getting when faced with his playboy ways. Still, it wasn't very high on his list of things he wanted to talk about - especially with Frida's closeness plucking tauntingly at his self-control.

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He considered the topic of Mari for a few moments despite the fact of Frida's nearness suggesting other topics of conversation. As Frida watched, Ravi's expression became pensive. His hand, however, didn't stop stroking along her cheek and jaw, then down her neck and along her shoulder.

"Yes, I am dating Mari." he said matter-of-factly, his thoughtful gaze turning back to Frida. "It's the oddest thing. When I think about her abstractly, I see a girl more than two years my junior who is A: religious, B: moral and C: really, genuinely too good to be true. But then I see her actually being kind, brave and passionate, and I know she's not a simpering twit mouthing platitudes and sitting on a high horse." He made a sour face, his expression turning brooding. "I think she's being a wholesome influence on me, Frida. Even us dating wasn't calculated or planned on my part. It just happened. I even promised not to hurt her." He looked at Frida, and worry was plain in his green eyes as he confided in her. "That doesn't sound much like me, but even now I'm thinking about that promise when I should be thinking about... other things. How the mighty have fallen, indeed." he finished with a sigh, glancing out the window and sipping his tea. Despite his words, he didn't show any signs of wanting to extricate himself from the comfortable cuddle with the artist.

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Frida considered that for a moment as they continued to sip tea.

"I've never really understood dating, I suppose. I mean, I know it's something people do - but there seem to be a lot of rules, and no one can ever agree on what they are. And sometimes people date and don't marry, and sometimes people marry without dating. My mother and father were like that - they met at a gallery opening in Paris, and ended up in bed together. That happened several times - they ran in the same crowds, you see. Or maybe that's when Father decided to run in the same crowd - at least that was what Mother suspected. It happened several times, until one day my father turned to my mother at an art show in Rome, and said 'Helena, this is quite rediculous. We're obviously mad for each other, so we should just marry and be done with it, don't you think?' And they did. And they've always been very passionate about each other, and quite in love I think."

She was quiet for another moment, taking a small sip of tea.

"I remember thinking the other day, when we were in the woods, that Mother would probably be quite pleased I was finally 'living life' a little. She always worried that I was so absorbed in my artistic endeavors that I wasn't experiencing enough. She would tell me that if I truly wanted to be a good artist, I had to learn what passion feels like, and anger, and sorrow. But, everyone's always treated me so differently, I didn't know how to make myself feel any of those things without someone to feel them about. That was the first time I really understood what she was talking about, I think."

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"Well, for what it's worth, I happen to think you're very passionate." Ravi said with a small grin. "I thought that when I first looked around and saw that it was your eyes making the back of my neck prickle. You had this ferociously intent look in them, and being me I thought at first that you were sizing me up for a tumble." He laughed at the memory. "And then you pulled out a sketchpad and drew me. I have to say, it's the first time I've found being drawn to be a turn-on."

"And that was your doing." he smiled at her, gently stroking her neck with a forefinger. "I was watching you watching me and thinking 'I wonder if she's this intense in other endeavours?'."

"I hope I didn't disappoint." Frida said quietly, a smile of her own on her lips as she leaned a little closer to him. He was warm and smelled good in some indefinable way, something underlying the faint cologne and soap. The reserved artist felt the urge to bury her face in the junction of Ravi's neck and shoulder and just breathe him in. And maybe taste him too.

"Hardly." he replied, aware of her nearness and the faint shifts in her scent, warm and soft and inviting. He took a large gulp of his tea, letting the chamomile scent temporarily supersede Frida's. "And as for people treating you differently... Well, children are children, even if they're nearly adults. You're attractive, and quirky, and easy to talk to."

Click to reveal..

Resolve & Composure check for Ravi to behave himself...

1d10=5, 1d10=9, 1d10=8, 1d10=2

2 succs

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Frida laughed very softly, and the sound was intoxicating for it's rarity.

"You're quite probably the first - and perhaps the only person - who will ever say that about me. Even my parents and my brother say that I'm a challenging person to communicate with. It must be your influence, Ravi."

Her voice was a touch warmer as her reserve slipped away a little more.

"I've never had anyone tell me I was attractive really, either. It's not that I haven't had compliments.. I've been called 'graceful', and 'refined'. I remember an artist friend of my mother's once told her that I was going to be a 'haunting beauty'. He didn't know I was listening at the time. He painted me - it was when I was quite young. Ironic, isn't it? But I've certainly never had anyone call me attractive. At least.. not until now. And I think I like 'quirky'. It's much nicer than calling me 'strange' or 'weird'. Sometimes I think I'll be glad to be done with being a teenager.. people seem much nicer when they're grown up. Or maybe they just know how to hide their rudeness better..."

She trailed off, realizing that she was rambling a bit in order to distract herself from Ravi's intense focus, and the feel of his skin against her own. She sort of thought - at least how she understood it - was that if Ravi were dating someone else, then there wouldn't get to be any more escapades like the one in the woods the other day. Or maybe that was only if they decided to.. what was the American phrase. 'Go steady?' At the same time, his nearness, and the memories of his touch, and the quiet companionship they were sharing was something she was loathe to abandon so soon after discovering it. She didn't know what she and Ravi's relationship was supposed to be, now that there was someone else in his life. And she was starting to realize her body didn't entirely care about such esoteric ideas.

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"Sometimes I wonder whether I ever was a child." Ravi said with wry half-smile on his handsome lips. "Or was I a cat, dreaming it was a man? Last night..." he hesitated, biting his lower lip. Frida watched him, feeling faint eddies and currents in her body at the least little expression. Finally Ravi continued.

"I haven't told anyone this part yet. Last night, or rather, this morning... After the, uh, Change and the slaughter and blood, I went running through the woods. I was the Beast then, almost completely the Beast. And it wanted to run and hunt, feast and sleep. It was very simple. And then, after we'd killed and eaten a deer, we looked into a pool..."

And, in the same quiet voice, he told Frida about the panther seeing the boy's reflection in the still water. About the two souls joined at birth, the Beast locked away under the thin veneer of the Man, finally communing with one another directly. About the accord they had reached, the Man acknowledging the nature of his Beast and the Beast, now out of it's prison, melding with the Man directly, the two souls becoming one.

The tale had a vaguely mythical, totemic quality to it, the artist mused as he told it. And the belief he had, that he'd always been this way, that it wasn't as a result of Dalton or the strange happenings... In the context of his tale, it made a lot of sense.

"...And I think my family know. Indeed, I think some of my family share this secret." Ravi finished. "My mother... doubtful. But my father, I'm convinced he at least knows about this, was expecting it sooner or later."

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Frida was contemplative as he told his story, giving it her full attention and not looking in the least bit cynical or amused. When he was finished, she bit her lip slightly, tilting her head in a contemplative sort of way.

"I suppose it's possible. I mean, it's not as if we don't have stories of these sorts of things in our world. People turning into animals, or ghosts. The ability to do magical things, like create darkness. Perhaps interaction with these people causes those abilities to stir. Perhaps it's not so much that they've caused them as it is that they awaken something dormant inside us. I mean, it seems too coincidental that this would just suddenly happen to you at the same time that the rest of us are discovering these abilities. Perhaps my hidden ability to communicate with the dead is what has made it so hard to establish connections to the living. Perhaps your family's history or lineage has something to do with your ability to change shape. I don't know.. perhaps I'm grasping at straws there. But if these other worlds have people with magical abilities - and we know now they do - then it doesn't seem unrealistic that perhaps our world does too. Especially considering our collective histories and mythologies."

She continued looking pensive for a moment, then her eyes brightened and she turned to him.

"It does make quite the tale, though - would you like me paint it for you? I think.. I think perhaps watercolor would make a good medium this time! And it would be lovely - I can see it now, in my head. How are you enjoying your painting, by the way? Are you shipping it back to your home, or keeping it here? I do hope you shipped it through the proper channels if you sent it back - oil needs delicate handling for several months after completion, you do remember what I told you on our way back to the dormitories about that, don't you?"

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"I do indeed." Ravi nodded, a gleam of pleasure in his eyes as he remembered the painting... and the memories it carried. His hand, almost of it's own accord, began idly stroking back and forth along Frida's leg where she had laid it on his lap. "It's stored upstairs in the attic right now, nicely shielded from the elements." He glanced around his room. "When it's dry enough that I'm not smelling paint fumes I'll be hanging it here. I'm glad it wasn't here, actually. The thought that whoever vandalised my room might have damaged that... It doesn't bear thinking about." He smiled at her warmly. "It's definitely one I'm keeping. It carries a lot of good memories in addition to being beautiful work."

"As for painting my... rebirth? Is that the word? Hmm... Anyway, as for painting that - by all means do so. It was a very personal experience, you know, and I'm not sure I've even done it justice with my words. But if anyone can do it justice through any medium, I have faith you can." He told her sincerely, leaning over to kiss her on the cheek.

Whether through reflex, the promptings of desire, or simple fascination with following his motions with her eyes - or maybe even a combination of the three - Frida turned her head slightly towards the dark-skinned nobleman as his face drew near so that his lips, rather than brushing against her cheek, pressed firmly against the corner of her mouth. She felt Ravi tense slightly in surprise, but of more import to the quiet, bold young woman was the delicious lightning that shot through every nerve and artery of her body at the contact of his lips on hers. It warmed her to the core, drove away all thoughts and fears of ghosts and death and the chill of the grave. It brought her out of the abstract realm, made her earthen - flesh and blood and heat. The part of Frida's mind that never stopped turning over mused that it was no wonder they used the term 'heat' to refer to the animal urge to couple. It was apt for how it felt: a burning, flushing sensation as though she had a fever. How would she paint this? Her mind was lit in colours of orange, gold and crimson - no charcoal or monotones here, no clearly defined pencil drawings. Heat was a morass of warm colours and vibrant shapes, of breathless strokes that assaulted the rational mind.

Frida turned her head a little more, turning the faint kiss into a fuller, deeper pressure of lip on lip. She felt so very much alive. Alive and strong, as though she could do anything. Was this what it was like to be an animal? Or was this simply an echo, picked up from the proximity to the strange, wondrous youth beside her? If so, how did he stand it? How could he not fly apart from the pressures inside him, from the instincts that tore at his mind for satiation.

In this Frida was correct. There was a struggle going on in Ravi's mind as his lips lingered there against hers. His arm tightened around the slender girl as he kissed her harder, a growl starting to rumble in his chest.

She had been the last woman he'd had sex with before his Change. His body remembered the feel of her skin against his, her nails in his back, her teeth on his skin as she'd muffled her cries in the throes of her first release. He wanted that again - wanted it as much as he'd wanted to eat last night, running wild. The making out with Mari earlier had left the coals of his arousal glowing, and now fuel was being added to the fire. A deep, savage urge was inside him now, a desire that had as much in common with a healthy sex drive as his sports car had with a lawnmower. He wanted to fuck her so that she screamed her climax to the night. He wanted to mark her pale skin with his teeth and taste her perspiration mingled with his. He wanted to draw blood, to leave his scent on her, to hear her voice gasping in passion-spent exhaustion and see her sweat-drenched hair strewn across his pillow. He wanted to roar out the fire that was in him.

It had been this way with Mari, too. Something about her virginal fear had kept him in check, her sweet innocence had evoked enough feelings of protectiveness to enable him to control himself. She had gentled his Beast with the light that was inside her, made him playful rather than hungry. But oh, had she *left* him hungry...


Click to reveal.. (Resolve & Composure)

After a few long, heated moments Ravi reluctantly pulled back from the passionate kiss, his pupils wide and dark against the scintillant green of his irises as he gazed at her from a few inches away.

"I... shouldn't do this." he told Frida, his voice thick with lust and regret. "I want to, but I also want not to. I'm not in the habit of breaking promises, and I've never wanted to break a promise more." He smiled somewhat bitterly, and closed his eyes for a moment, taking several deep breaths. "God you smell good." he murmured.

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Frida tried to catch her breath, but Ravi's kiss had left her without, at least briefly, and she drew in deep breathes to try to catch up. She could feel the desire that he stirred in her thrumming through her body, and marveled at how easily such emotions drove away all the cold, dreadful feelings she'd been fighting. She wanted him, and Frida - mostly because there had never been a reason for her parents to deny her, and because she had never wanted anything unrealistic or excessive for people of her parent's means or morals - had always gotten what she wanted. This was the first time she was being forced to confront the idea that she might not. And somewhere inside, for the first time ever, she felt a small surge of selfish jealousy. So her analytical mind began to work.

"Let me try to understand. You're dating Mari, and you made a promise not to hurt her."

Ravi nodded slightly, grimacing slightly at the situation he'd found himself in.

"You want to have sex with me, but if Mari finds out, you'll be breaking your promise, right?"

He nodded slightly, something about the expression on the attractive young artist's expression giving him pause. It wasn't.. devious, per se. More like a mathematician making sure they had a problem solved correctly before announcing the answer.

"So.. if I know that you're going to date Mari - which means you won't be dating me, if I understand the concept properly - then I don't understand why we'd have to mention it to her. It's not as if you've made a promise not to sleep with other girls. Or that you won't be involved with anyone else. You only promised not to hurt her. And.. well.. it's not like I'm misunderstanding your intentions, therefore I have no reason to speak with Mari about it. And if she doesn't know about it.. she won't be hurt about it. And so you won't have broken any promises.. right?"

She looked at him with dark, chocolate-colored eyes swimming with desire. Because he hadn't told her not to, her hand was still resting against his chest where it had ended up as they kissed, her legs resting against his. He could tell by the expression on her face - and by what he knew of her, and how her mind worked, that Frida wasn't trying to play the minx. In her mind, such a solution solved the problem perfectly. He knew her heart likely hadn't been touched by deceit, and therefore she had no idea how deep the betrayal she was suggesting could be to other girls. And he knew she wasn't the type to make plans to turn it back on him when it suited her.. Frida wasn't that deceitful. She just.. wanted him. And she wanted him enough to not care that it was only his body that she'd be getting. In fact, so far as he'd experienced, it was only his body - and his friendship - that she seemed to want.

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For a long moment Ravi considered the proposal, staring at Frida with eyes widened in surprise. Friends with benefits. She's talking about sex with no strings beyond friendship, no animosity or tears or jealous fits. It's the Holy fucking Grail! He reached up and nestled his palm against the lightly flushed cheek, gazing into her eyes. Ordinarily I'd suspect a trick, a trap... but this is Frida. She really, honestly just wants to have sex with me again. And she'd cooperate in keeping it secret. She'd never tell a soul... Frida lightly kissed his palm, letting her lips linger there as she waited for his answer, her fingertips stroking down the strong chest towards his tautly-muscled stomach.

Ravi froze, his whole twinned soul seeming to convulse and hold it's breath.

Click to reveal.. (dun-dun-DUN!)

Resolve & Composure, - 1 dice for the extreme temptation and excellent twisted logic.

1d10=7, 1d10=9, 1d10=9

2 succs.

Holy shit. The man is an OAK!

...In more ways than one.

*creaking sound*

Why am I worried about hiding it?! It's never bothered me before whoever found out about my shenanigans. God's blood, I got kicked out of my last school for shagging a student teacher in the supply closet. It's not just that I don't want to hurt Mari, I also don't want to lose her. His thoughts moved along unfamiliar pathways, a rare moment of introspection providing insight into his actions. And that isn't like me. There's always plenty of fish in the sea, right? Face it, the thought of losing Mari hurts... And this would be living a lie. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply. Frida's scent was on the air, sweet and inviting, but it seemed less able to overwhelm him. A lie. Both of us. Frida would keep the secret, but she would be doing something terrible to do so. And I? If I wanted to fuck around on a girl I was dating, I wouldn't even be having a conflict. I wouldn't care if she found out, not if I really wanted the sex more than the girl. Mari matters somehow. Shit. Shitshitshitcrapfuckbollocksbastardbugger! No! NonononononoNO! This is not happening. I am NOT about to turn down great sex with an attractive, passionate girl who wants me like this. I am NOT falling in l-l- *deep breath* LOVE with Maria Palacios! AAAAGH!!

I am. And I might be. I am SO god-damned pussywhipped.

"Fuck." he said softly, opening his eyes and looking at Frida, his hand gently trapping hers against his heart. "I can't, Frida. I mean, I can, obviously, but I would actually hate myself for it, and I'm far too much of a narcissist to go around hating myself. Imagine if I couldn't look at myself in the mirror anymore." He smiled wryly, then shook his head. "It's not just about Mari, or about the secret. It's about pride, it's about my sense of self. If I was going to cheat on someone, I wouldn't care about hurting them, I wouldn't ask someone to lie for me to cover it up. I know you're knew to sex and relationships, but as a friend I couldn't do that to you. It'd be a really warped initiation into things." He brought her hand up to his lips and kissed her palm gently, then just held it, resting it between them. "I might be a monster, and I might end up hurting Mari like Hector the blind seer said, but I'll carry that weight on my own. I'll not hide behind you."

"So... that's a no?" Frida asked quietly, her dark eyes on his face.

"It's a no. Or at least a 'not at the moment'." Ravi confirmed with a sigh, his eyes full of regret. "But friends... Friends is good. Someone to talk candidly with, someone who you can come to. I can be that. I'd like to be that."

Click to reveal.. (The Inner Ravi)


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Frida listened to him with an intent gaze, the only change in expression a small ghost of a small at his narcissist comment.

"I.. think I understand. I would like that. To be friends, I mean. You're a very good friend, Ravi. But.. I think, for now.. I should go." She paused, as if there was something else she intended to say on the tip of her tongue. But for the first time, Frida considered her words and hesitated.. deciding against them. What she said instead was obviously not what she had thought of first, but they were still true enough. "We both have a very early morning tomorrow, after all."

She stood up slowly, almost wraith-like, extricating herself from the comforting warmth of Ravi's arms. She could already feel that chill beginning to set in, and with it a heavy ache in the pit of her stomach that made her feel a little sick. He stood, almost taking a step forward to console her, but she shook her head sightly, reaching for the doorknob.

"I'll.. I'll see you tomorrow, Ravi."

And without giving him a chance to respond, she slipped out of his room and closed it behind her.


Back in her room, Frida curled up in her favorite blue-grey armchair. It was large, like the one she'd sat in with Ravi, and she found that it felt.. wrong, somehow. Like it was much too large for one person by themselves, and was instead intended for two people to curl up in together. Like cats. She wrapped her arms around the soft, silken throw pillow, her gaze resting on nothing in particular in the elegantly furnished room, but instead drifting into nowhere as she went over the events of the evening.

I told him I understand.. but what is it I understand, and why am I still upset about it? He said that he can't.. because he would hate himself. It wasn't just about his secret to Mari.. it was about his pride. He doesn't *want* to cheat on Mari.. but he wanted me. So.. he did want to cheat on Mari. At least.. kind of. But.. not as much as he wants to not cheat on her, I suppose.

She glanced up then, across the room at the mirror, looking at herself in it. There she sat, in her cold grey silk nightgown from another era. Pale skin and dark, shadowed eyes. A haunting beauty...

And why would he? How did he describe Maria? "Kind." "Brave." "Passionate." "Too good to be true."

Ravi had told her that she was passionate, though it was never a word that she would have used to describe herself before. But she wasn't brave, or really even kind.. she supposed a "kind" person probably wouldn't have offered to be his lover, when he was dating another person. It hadn't felt wrong to her at the time, but now that she thought about it, she realized it was the kind of thing that antagonists did in stories, or movies (not that she watched a lot of them in the first place). Not necessarily the villain of the story - that was usually the man who ended up sleeping with the woman who offered herself up, if she recalled. But not a nice person, either.

Of course, she wasn't unkind. She didn't do things maliciously, just to hurt people. Sometimes, she felt as if she just.. wasn't anything.

Like a ghost.

The only person who had made her feel differently had been Ravi. The only one who had ever accepted her for who she was, without funny looks or snide comments, had been the person who just turned her away for a girl who was 'too good to be true'. The young artist didn't realize that she had been falling in love with Ravi - with his zeal for life and his passionate nature and his easy acceptance - just as hard as he was falling for Maria Palacios. Even now, as she sat curled up in her faded blue armchair, in her grey and white room, and felt the bright passion and fire and need from a few minutes ago fading away into a grey, aching nothingness, she didn't realize it. But for Frida, it was a long time before the tears stopped, and sleep finally came.

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He let Frida go, sinking back into the armchair that smelled of her and resting his head against the arm she had been leaning on before closing his eyes. The chair felt empty now, too big for him. She'd been hurt. Of course she'd been hurt. He couldn't help that though... Or rather, he'd chosen to inflict a little pain now to save greater pain later for everyone concerned.

My father would be SO proud... he thought bitterly, and growled, an angry rumble deep in his chest. Why? Why the fuck did I do that? Now Frida's going to join the ranks of girls that hate my guts. She's going to tell everyone that I'm whipped. She's never going to be comfortable around me or be my friend. Damn it all, I gave a girl the 'friend speech'! But I meant it. I do like her. Ungh!

He catapulted himself out the chair with a convulsive movement of his body, landing easily in a half-crouch on the floor. The worst part of it all is that I still feel like I did the right thing, and not just for me. Un-bloody-believable. Seventeen years spotless record of guilt-free selfishness and shenanigans and now, the day after I turn into a bloodthirsty carnivore, I get moral? He straightened, grabbing more detritus from the floor and dumping it in the vacated chair. A line from Voltaire came to him and he chuckled self-mockingly, catching sight of his reflection in the mirror and seeing, for an instant, the panther looking back at him.

"I have no morals, yet I am a very moral person." he told the panther, which blinked and then faded away to his own face. Strangely, he felt better. He wanted what he wanted, and though he wanted Frida, both as a friend and a lover, he wanted Mari more. More than either, he wanted to be proud. It was one thing to be a rake, and quite another to be a base rutting creature.

He crossed to the window and opened it, letting the night air cool his desire-scorched flesh. The cool Autumn night smelled good: rich soil and grass below, and only a hundred feet away was the dark, peaceful forest. Above, the stars twinkled in the pre-midnight sky, their lights obscured now and then by the passing of clouds. Ravi considered those stars for a moment, then looked around to see if anyone were watching his window. An impulse was on him, a fever was in his blood that had been placed there by Mari and Frida, and now was fanned higher still by the night air. Right now, more than any other time today, he felt the fur and claws of his soul-shape just under his smooth dark skin. There wouldn't be a more perfect time.

He stepped away from the window and stripped off his clothing, feeling alive once more. Questions of love and friendship, of empathy and desire, conceded the field to more wild, basic urges. The need to run free, the desire to feel the wind and the earth and the night. He moved to the window and shoved his head outside to feel the breeze, letting it carry it's message to him.

The rumbling sensation began in Ravi's chest, then built up momentum, moving down to his belly and loins and then out through every fibre and muscle of his body, moving through his heated blood before contracting back in towards the core of him once more. Everything he was feeling, every conflict, every worry about the morrow was a challenge to him, and he felt the overwhelming urge to meet that challenge, to proclaim his supremacy. Here is Who I am, and this is What I am. My friends are Mine! This territory is Mine! I am pride, and life, and blood, talon and bone. said the song that thrummed in the Red, in the darkness beyond the light of reason. Still leaning from the window, Ravi tilted his head back and gave the feeling a voice.

The rumbling, snarling roar had not even died away before the young nobleman, alive with the savage joy of the night, had leapt from his window to land in a crouch on the grass 18 feet below. With a twitch of powerful muscles he raced across the darkened lawn, leaping the hedge in a single bound and disappearing into the forest.

Tomorrow would be the meeting. Tomorrow would be danger and uncertainty. But for now, branches lashing his bare skin and the wind in his hair, Ravi FitzCoventry exulted in the run.

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