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La Soirée

"Welcome to the dungeon, my dear!" Zoltan said, embracing Megan one-armed, since his left hand was occupied with a glass full of something red. The interior of his apartment was very warm and dimly-lit and noisy, full of fabulously-dressed people and wood smoke and incense. There was some sort of background music, but Megan could only occasionally hear notes above the general hubbub. "Come in, have a drink or three."

"Thanks," Megan said, sliding through the door and adjusting her black leather necktie and the collar of her green dress shirt. "I assume you have more conventional beverages." She thought she saw someone with fairy wings run past.

The corner of Zoltan's mouth turned up. He was decked out in an electric purple silk waistcoat over a black dress shirt and slacks. There were birds of some sort -- phoenixes, perhaps -- worked into the silk brocade of the waistcoat. When he moved, the silk shimmered and changed from electric purple to iridescent green and back to purple. "If you're looking for soda pop, my dear, you will find it hidden in the cooler behind the wine and beer table. This -" he said, displaying his glass "- is a lovely Merlot from Australia."

She grinned and said, "Who's here?" She got a glimpse of a trio of identical Latino men with their arms around each others' shoulders, doing a little kick-step to the shrieks and laughter of a group who sported enough sequins and rhinestones to blind Europe.

"Everyone from the house, now that you've arrived," Zoltan said. "And some friends of mine from around town. A few from out of town. I promise that practically no one is boring." He glided off into the crowd, exclaiming, "Darling! Let me get you another drink!"

Megan looked around, coughed a little at the dense smoke in her atmospheric zone, and headed for the drinks table.

As she was examining the myriad options, a small blonde girl in jeans and a t-shirt bounced up to the table. She reached unerringly for a Guinness.

"Er," said Megan. "Should you be drinking that?"

The girl looked up at her with a sarcastic twist to her mouth and a sharp look in her eyes. "How long were you 13 years old?" she said in a slightly slurred English accent.

"Um," said Megan, already thinking that she'd got in over her head. "A year?"

The girl stood on tiptoe, grabbed Megan's necktie and hauled her down so they were face-to-face. Megan could smell the beer on her breath. The girl poked a finger at Megan's shoulder and hissed, "I've been 13 years old since nineteen forty-one, and if that doesn't entitle me to a pint now an' then, I don't know what does!"

Megan nodded, eyes wide.

"Right!" the girl said with a decided nod, and released Megan's tie.

A tall man with a long, mournful face and a mane of flaming red hair nodded at Megan as she straightened up. He reached over the girl and removed the Guinness bottlecap, then tucked the cap into an inner pocket of his dark blue suit coat.

"Thank you, Maelstrom," the 13-year-old said regally. With a sniff, she turned her back on Megan and marched away into the party. The tall man followed her.

"Who was that?" Megan said by way of greeting to Simon, loosening the knot of her tie.

Simon peered through the smoke. "Oh, her? That's the Equestrian. Old friend of Zoltan's. Comes to all his parties."

"Is she, you know...?" Megan tapped her canine tooth and made a bitey motion. She plucked a beer from the ice bucket.

"Oh, no," Simon said, refilling his wine glass with a California chardonnay. "No one's quite sure what that big guy is, other than some magical horse, but she made some sort of deal with him so she could save her parents during the Blitz or something."

"Wow," Megan said, looking after the pair again. "Poor kid. Didn't know what she was getting herself into. I hated being thirteen."

"Didn't everyone?" Simon said. "Hey, there's someone you should meet. C'mon."

Making their way through the party was less directed action and more drifting with the tides. At one point, they ended up near a large Victorian couch upholstered in scarlet brocade.

"I don't care which Elizabeth you saw crowned, dear heart," Zoltan said to the pretty young man draped over the arm of the couch, "whether it was the queen, the empress, or the other queen, you're ancient."

The young man folded his arms and scowled prettily.

Zoltan leaned closer and said in a low but carrying voice, "And if you move to town and try that trick of 'going back to high school', I will have you arrested for child endangerment, as well as for anything else you manage to pull off before I make the call. And people here know about our sort, unlike your blind and uncaring West Coasters."

"You're not the Grand Duke!" the young man snarled.

"There is no Grand Duke here," Zoltan said, spreading his hands and smiling angelically. "We're one big happy family here. Very democratic. Very happy. Very getting-along with the mortals." His smile vanished. "Very not biting up their children under false pretenses, because the mortals here have more than stakes and pitchforks."

"They're just mortals," the young man said, shoulders hunched up near his ears and chin firmly pressed to breastbone.

"This town is a favorite haunt of every Mystikai on the planet," Zoltan said, looking at the young man from under lowered lids. "They may not have children attending high school, but they have friends who do."

"What if I went to college?" the young man said after a silence, still sulky.

"If you will insist upon your usual approach to people," Zoltan said, "there are plenty of older women and men who would welcome advances by a young man with full pouting lips. Even should he choose to nibble upon them. You could become a sidekick! Or perhaps you could market your saliva as a treatment for arterial hardening."

The young man snarled and turned his back on Zoltan.

When Megan looked away from that exchange, trying not to laugh out loud, she noticed that Simon was being loomed at by a masculine figure that was dressed in snugly-fitting leather trousers and a leather motorcycle jacket. The man's smooth steel cranium shone dimly as he leaned back from whispering something in Simon's ear, and he grinned a metallic grin, eyes glowing faintly blue under his brow.

Simon lowered his eyes flirtatiously. "C'mon, Mr. Hammer, you know I'm not nearly man enough for you." Simon rapped on the man's metallic abdomen, producing a ringing sound. "I'm still not invulnerable."

"Hah!" The bigger man's voice had an electronic and echoing quality. "I can be careful, you know, pretty boy."

Simon looked up at him and grinned lopsidedly. "I've seen the guys coming out of your door too many mornings. They all need a buff and shine, or bandages."

Mr. Hammer laughed again. "Well, you know where I am if you suddenly get less chickenshit."

"Megan," Simon said, gesturing in an introductory fashion, "this is Jack Hammer, the guy who lives out in the carriage house. Mr. Hammer, this is Megan Amazon."

Jack Hammer extended a big, well-formed steel hand. "Good ta meetcha, kid."

Megan shook his hand. "Thanks."

"The bloodsucker finally got someone in the parlor rooms, huh?" he said. "Well, welcome to Zoltan's House of Crazy Queer Paras." Then someone else caught his eye, and he turned and sauntered off with a not-quite-apologetic nod.

"'Mr. Hammer'?" Megan said, raising her eyebrows.

"He's, uh, older than I am," Simon said, avoiding her gaze.

"Mmm-hmm," Megan said. "Robotic leather daddy seeks young shapeshifter for fun and games?"

"Just who I've been looking for!" Simon said feverishly, stepping through a gap in the crowd. "Megan, G; G, Megan. G is on the second floor across from me. Her apartment frequently smells of diesel fuel. Megan is on the first floor, in the grand parlor suite. Her apartment is occasionally soggy."

"Only when your friends come and weep on my furniture," Megan said, extending her hand to G. "Hiya."

G was dressed in well-faded jeans that clung to her hips and thighs and covered the tops of worn brown cowboy boots. She wore a tuxedo shirt, open at the collar, adorned with faceted onyx cufflinks. A small jade pendant hung on a braided hemp cord and rested at the hollow of her throat. She was a lean, wiry woman with sculpted cheekbones. The wind and sun had started carving lines around her eyes and mouth. Her auburn hair was about an inch long on top, shorter on the sides, starting to show just a few white hairs. G levered herself up from her chair, revealing that she was shorter than Simon, maybe 5'2", but her hand delivered a bone-straining grip. "Hey," G said, offering a lazy smile.

Simon melted away into the crowd, leaving the two of them facing each other. G pointed to a nearby chair with her beer bottle. "I hate standing around. The crowd gets to me," she said, folding herself back into her own chair.

Megan sat cautiously, still reluctant to bend at the middle even though her ribs were knitting up nicely. "How long have you lived here?" she said, casting about for conversational topics.

"About six years," G said with just a touch of a drawl. She took a long pull on her beer. "You new to the city?"

"Yeah," Megan said. "I lived out in Las Vegas with my mom. Decided to make a break for it."

"Ah, family," G said with a faint smile. "What're you doin' to keep body and soul together while you're here?"

"Loading delivery trucks," Megan said. "At any rate, I was. I'll find out Monday if I've still got a job."

"Was the place hit by the aliens?" G said.

"No," Megan said. "I... said some things to my boss and, uh, the guy he owed money to." She took a swig of beer. "How about you?"

"Architect," G said.

"Wow!" Megan said.

G waved it away. "It's not all that. I'm still small potatoes. But I came here originally to learn more about this city's architecture. It's coming back into vogue, you know, all the Deco stuff."

"It's all the fault of that TV series," Megan said. "Steam Heroes."

"You watch it?" G said.

"Mom hates it, so I never really bothered to pick it up."

"Good casting. Stupid, terminally straight romances. Enormous merchandising campaign," G said, gazing out over the party. "Reviving interest in the para first wave all over the place."

"Hunh," Megan said. "So after you learn what you can, you going to move?"

G brought her focus back to the conversation and smiled. Megan liked watching the line on the left side of her mouth deepen.

"I'll probably never leave," G said.

Megan looked at G's eyes, which were blue-gray. "You're completely in love with this city, aren't you?" Megan said thoughtfully. Then she covered her mouth with a hand, feeling the blood rush to her face. "Sorry. Inside voice on the inside, Megan."

G laughed. "Thought a big woman like you would hold your liquor better," she said, winking. "But yeah, I guess I am."

While Megan wrestled with her embarrassment, G got up. "Hey, speaking of work, I should go. I have an appointment early tomorrow." She put a hand on Megan's shoulder. "See you around the house, right?"

"Yeah, sure," Megan mumbled. "Good night." And she watched G stroll away, noticing how her jeans were faded around the rectangle of her wallet in her left hip pocket.

Megan picked up another beer and went in search of Simon, but stopped when she saw Simon sitting on the arm of a chair, leaning close to the middle-aged woman with brown hair who sat in it, looking up into his face and laughing. There was a dazzled, adoring look in Simon's eyes that rang some bells in Megan's head. Had Simon invited that woman he'd been talking about since the alien attack? What was her name, Suzanne?

Megan sighed and turned toward the door. She wasn't feeling particularly sociable after putting her foot in it with G, and didn't want to muck up Simon's chances with the current woman of his dreams.

She noticed an Armani-suited older white man leaning against the front wall of the suite, watching the party with hands in pockets. His hair was short, sleek, and executive-perfect, black with just a touch of white at the temples. His profile looked like it belonged to a catalog model or a movie star. He was so jarringly out of place that Megan felt drawn to him.

He gave her an odd Mona Lisa smile as she approached.

"Hello," Megan said.

"Hello," the man said.

"Friend of Zoltan's?" she said.

"I suppose you could say that," he said.

"I'm Megan," she said.

"Nice to meet you," he said.

Megan put her back to the wall next to him and watched the party while working on her beer.

"Since this seems to be my night for putting foot in mouth," she said, and in her peripheral vision, he looked at her, "I might as well say it: you don't look like you're comfortable here."

He nodded. "Very astute."

"So why are you staying?"

He tilted his head back to examine the ceiling. "Just because I'm an outsider doesn't mean that there's nothing for me to learn here."

Megan looked at him sharply. "In a police raid or alien invasion sort of way?"

He gave her a brief, spasmodic flash of a larger smile. "I thought you weren't in spandex."

"Congenital paranoia."

"An excellent legacy from your mother."

"You say that like you know her."

"I do." He stepped away into the party. "If you'll forgive me." He bowed slightly and vanished into the depths of the party.

The Equestrian and Maelstrom arrived seconds later. "Bloody hell, he was just fucking here!" said the girl, who was looking rather worse for the wear.

The horse gave Megan a long-suffering look.

"Which way did he go?" the girl said to Megan.

Megan pointed in the general direction of the man's departure. The girl flounced that way, and the horse sighed noisily before striding after her.

Megan sighed as deeply as Maelstrom had. Giving the evening up as a bad job, she finished her beer and departed in search of her bed.

Date: 2012-05-09 07:58 pm (UTC)
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From: [personal profile] the_leaky_pen
Poor Megan. But a good intro to some of the other residents! :]


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