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Misguided Ghosts: A Promise

The Masquerade Ball

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a part of Misguided Ghosts: A Promise, by Lovely VonSchultz.

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Lovely VonSchultz holds sovereignty over The Masquerade Ball, giving them the ability to make limited changes.

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The Masquerade Ball is a part of Misguided Ghosts: A Promise.

18 Characters Here

Jetta Miracle Constantine [7] "I dare ya"
Donovan Petrov [0] "Every hand's a winner, and every hand's a loser, and the best that you can hope for is to die in your sleep..."
Dexter "Dex" Estrama Ashcroft [0] "Ello, chaps. Isn't this party real smashing?"
Mischa Persephone Hawthorne [0] And in the crush of the dark, I'll be your light in the mist.
Sansa Kealoha [0] Little mice, little men, get 'em all excited; all invited.
Gunnar Marcail Macphee [0] I'm a crow, I'm the most with the least to gain.
Viviannah Azalea Georgia Constantine [0] :This Place That is Now Shattering Apart... Will Still Remain Ever Beautiful:
Mariella Augusta Miller [0] Get over your hill and see what you find there. With grace in your heart and flowers in your hair.
Michaelis "Mike" Loren Miller [0] He a muthafuckin trip, trip, sailor of the ship, ship. When he make it drip, drip kiss him on the lip, lip.

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I’m going away for a while.
I’ll be back, don’t try and follow me
‘Cause I’ll return as soon as possible.


In the darkest reaches of a human heart, lie the wishes of their deepest desires. The want for a promise made that someone will love them; understand them; accept them; or end them.

The mansion that lay in the open lands of a very indistinguishable place is magnificent. A magical place that gives hope to those who lay eyes upon it. The ball room; a mysterious open expanse of luxury and all the elegant fixings for a party that could last ages. A room fit for kings and queens. A Masquerade to end the suffering in the best way he knows how.

Why wait a century for this? Every century. Never too soon; never too late. A contract? No. A need. A simple desire to try and help those who request it. A wish made from the hearts and not the minds. A promise that needs spoken to them, by them… This is the duty given to him by beings he knows not of. This is a duty that keeps him living, breathing in the most metaphorical sense of the word, and keeps his existence pertinent to the world and its people.

’Cause I’m just one of those ghosts.
Traveling endlessly.


The guests arrive fashionably, just as he instructed the drivers. Limousines all black and perfect, shimmering under the orange glow of the streetlamps and those lights along the curving, tree-lined driveway. His land is covered in hills and grass, no houses or towns for miles beyond the line of trees at the edge of the fields. This is not meant to frighten his guests, but to give him a peace of mind. No one stumbles upon his mansion. You can only be invited. A thick paper with elegant writing, that he has written himself, and personally signed and sealed to his guests. Delivery is anonymous and the R.S.V.P. is always absolute. Everyone attends. Calendars are cleared for trips, dates are postponed or canceled. No guests allowed.

His butler, Torrence, and the escorts, Brigitte and Björn, take gentle care of those arriving. Invitations are checked. No one would dare try to sneak past a butler who sees all. Black sunglasses or not, he is never caught unawares. Invitees are escorted into the ball room, silent, not sure if the man or woman guiding them is even capable of talking. Brigitte always smiles with her eyes, sweet and innocent, shy before the men she must lead. Björn is always twinkling with mischief at the ladies, giving them a preview of a grand night filled with mystery and enjoyment.

The quartet will not strike up until the Master has spoken. They sit quietly, plucking at strings, wiping off bows, hearing nothing but feeling everything. What use do musicians have with their ears, when all they have to do is know it? Their hearts are still beating, forever counting the measures, ticking away like a pendulum. Click. Clack. Click. Clack.

But now I’m told that this is life,
And pain is just a simple compromise,
So we can get what we want out of it.
Someone care to classify,
A broken heart and twisted minds?
So I can find someone to rely on…


All assembled. Some have drinks, handed to them diligently by the twins who dance through the crowd with trays of champagne and punch. Jonathon stands on a balcony, all theatrical grace and beauty. His mask is red, a long nose covering up one that is actually perfect and symmetrical on his face. His tuxedo is simple, black, red bowtie and thin, pointed boots. He doesn’t need much else for he is their as chaperone, as magic maker, and as the grantor of the heart’s wish. Gazing upon them all with eyes so dark they appear black, Jonathon opens his mouth. Their attention is all turned up to him. He smiles, sweetly, like a Father looking upon his children.

“Welcome ladies and gentlemen, to my Masquerade Ball.” No need for them to know how often he holds it. He delicately leaves that bit out. “I am very pleased you all could make it.” His long, spidery fingers curl up and both hands are thrust into the deep pocket of his dress pants.

“Before we start the music and merriment, as you have read in the invites, there are a few things I would like to remind you of.

“The garden is a delightful place to get a bought of fresh air. Just through the line of French doors lies a balcony with benches and chairs for resting. If you plan to examine the roses and many flowers we take care of on our grounds, please feel free. I’m sure you will find them most fascinating after close investigation. But please, do not pick, cut, or otherwise render them from their stems. They are delicate creatures and have been known to grow a bit fussy if one is taken from its home. Flowers and shrubberies are living beings like you and I and they will protect themselves if the need arises.

“As you can see, most of the doors in this ballroom are closed. Do not fear, I have not locked them. If a restroom is needed, Brigitte or Björn can assist you in the right direction. Just ask and they will show you the way. As far as the closed doors are concerned, it is in your best interest to not go beyond them. My mansion is a place full of mystery and haunts and the hallways can be rather frightening at times. As your host I would only wish you the best of times tonight. Fear is not conducive to a joyful time.

“Lastly, but most certainly not least, I would prefer it if you would not call on me. When I am truly needed, I shall be there in a moment’s notice. If I am not around, I am not needed. We are all adults here and I’m sure all of you are very intelligent adults that can sort things out on your own. If, however, it is something beyond your control, I can help you.” Gazing over them all, Jonathon bows low at his waist and flourishes a hand to the string quartet sitting statuesque on the stage. “Now, let the merrymaking begin and I beg that you all have a wonderful evening.” The music began, filling the enormous vaulted ceiling with delight and jovial happiness.

A vague speech throbbing with mystery and half-truths. Telling them what could really happen will frighten them. This way, after an hour or two of dancing and socializing, they will have forgotten about his speech but still remember the rules. He fades away into the shadows of his announcement balcony but remains in the corners of the ballroom. Just as he had said, he will be there when he is truly needed.

The ones we trusted the most
Pushed us far away
And there's no one road
We should not be the same
I'm just a ghost
And still they echo me
They echo me in circles.

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#, as written by Odyne
Lila drank in the scenery around her once more, sipping her sickly sweet champagne to be polite. It's far off from beer, but I can hack it, she thought placidly. Her jaw dropped as she observed the ball room. It was decorated and highly wrought, with tables of delicious-smelling foods and drinks all around. Lila had been to some amazing parties, but not without graffiti being the only art on the walls and strobe lights dancing off of a floor of wall-to-wall writhing bodies. She knew there was something foreboding about this place by the seemingly cordial coat check at the door from the staff. She had seen some fearsome bouncers but nothing had kept her more in check than the butler in shades.

She felt like an alien in a foreign country, the strangers around her dressed like royalty, dignified and worthy. She had taken a trip to a zany little boutique on Madison street and bought several finishing touches to her outfit, such as chandelier earrings and long, red velvet gloves cropped above the elbow to hide most of her tattoo. When she observed herself in the mirror back home, she thought she looked incredible. Having never been to a school dance, wedding or funeral she had never put together a more elaborate outfit. She felt like "friggin' Cinderella," when she spoke to her cousin Leigh on the phone, who was jealous of Lila for being able to attend such an honorable ball.

Still, her decision to wear knee-high platform shoes may have been a touch naive. She became self-conscious of her wild purple eyeshadow, body glitter and unkempt hair, breathing a sigh of relief that everyone's faces were obscured by masks. With shaking hands she downed the rest of the doux Chardonnay, discarding her glass on a nearby table.

The music was like nothing she had ever heard. Lila had never been much of a fan for classical music, yet she found herself swaying slightly in time to the music, enchanted. The ride to this place seemed to take a thousand years, and the quiet driver made the ride all the more enduring. Now that she was here, she felt like the outcast once more, and desired nothing more than to escape the cumbersome crowd. Shaking her head in disbelief, she felt her chest tighten. What was I thinking? she asked herself miserably, clearing her clogging throat. She felt so unlike herself that it was beginning to scare her.

"I need a cigarette!" she exclaimed suddenly, barreling for the French doors toward the garden and into an ocean of moonlight, not at all taking into account anyone her charging body came into contact with. Once outside, she reached into her little clutch for a fresh pack of Marlboro Menthols and her trusty Zippo lighter. Lighting a cigarette at last, her knees buckled and she sank to the ground with her dress billowing around her, inhaling the subtle taste of poison and mint, holding it within her chest until she could no longer feel the tears welling inside her.

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Jetta smiled wistfully as she chugged her delightfully sweet champagne. Jetta always thought the sweeter the better. She looked around cheerfully for her brother. He was with her just a moment ago and now he was mysteriously absent. He had convinced Jetta to come and now he was no where to be found.

Jetta shrugged her shoulder as examined the area. Everything was incredibly elegant and beautiful. The air of the place was like pure magic, just floating around. The magic seemed to be in everything, from the food to the paint on the walls. Jetta had to admit that when she arrived with her brother, everything seemed rather strange, yet enchanting! No one even spoke initially, like they had all been wrapped up in a spell.

But now, the mood was different. The music carried Jetta’s soul into a feeling of whimsy. She usually wasn’t around such music or in a high class place like this. Her place was smoking weed at a protest rally, dancing in her tie dye dress and ready to throw a bucket of blood on anyone wearing fur. Or she would be at the club, dancing the night away to music very different from this and with people very different from these.

Jetta herself, was a very different person than the kind that belonged here. However tonight, she at least looked like she belonged here, with these people. She did herself up the best way she knew how. The dancer from the world famous club, exclusively for the stars looked like a beautiful, rich heiress. She was in no way famous herself, she was just a dancer, hired to entertain. But it was also true that only the best dancers who looked better than the others were hired at this exclusive club. But it is still a rather demeaning type of life none the less. But tonight, Jetta belonged. They all belonged here tonight.

Jetta looked around once again for her brother who was no where to be found. Her hands were starting to get a bit shaky. She hadn’t had her fix in so long.. Her brother had made sure to stay around at all times so her couldn’t fed her addiction. Yet now that they get to the party, he is no where to be found. Jetta lightly got up, gracefully stepping onto the ball room floor. She danced around a bit before her heard a woman’s voice exclaim "I need a cigarette!"

Jetta smiled as she heard the words. “Cigarette”, what a sexy word. Jetta spun around and headed toward the garden, where the woman seemed to have retreated to. When she went through the doors, she was immediately draped in moonlight. Everything in the garden had a lovely silver glow. The flowers even seemed to dance and smile at Jetta as she gracefully entered the area. The air was so magical, it tempted Jetta to want to just dance in a patch of flowers. Part of her believed the flowers would dance along with her. Maybe they would.

She looked around for the woman she heard. It was always nice to have someone to talk to when you go out for a smoke. She finally found her, sitting down in her dress with a Marlboro Menthols cigarette. Jetta smiled sociably as she walked over and pulled out her hidden joint from her bra. Her brother would have murdered her if he knew she had brought something with her.

“Heya, this place is beautiful right?” she said as she toyed with the joint between her fingers. “You have a light Hun?” She asked with a charismatic smile. “Oh and I’m Jetta by the way.” She said as she sat in a chair net to the woman.

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Skye arrived pretty early, as always. She was the type of person who thought punctuality meant showing up thirty minutes before the appointed time and not just on time. It was odd though, the way the limo had seemed to show up just when she was ready to leave, as if the driver had known her habit. She was confused, but it didn’t stop her from getting into the limousine with and excited, almost giddy smile. It was true, she had been looking forward to this night from the moment she’d received the mysterious invitation. It had been a while since she’d done anything that could be classified as “fun.” She’d been too busy with work to even go out for drinks with friends. Yes it was about time she had a night to blow off steam.

The ballroom was extravagantly decorated, and yet it was still elegant. Skye was impressed by it, beautiful as it was. She was one of the first to arrive, so she took a seat off to the side to wait, and found herself presented with champagne by the same person who’d escorted her in. She took it gratefully, and sipped it while she waited for the other guests to arrive, and the party to begin.

***

When the long, black limousine arrived for him, Van was loathe to slip inside it. It seemed like a trick. It looked like death to him. In fact, he’d had a recurring nightmare that went something like this. It started with a long, black limo, and ended with him lying on the floor in a pool of blood. It was just the sort of thing someone like Sven would do to get to him. For a mob boss, Sven had always been sickeningly theatrical. Van could imagine himself getting in the limo which promised to take him to an innocent party, but would really deliver him to and abandoned lot somewhere in which Sven would be waiting, revolver in hand, demanding his money and threatening death. Van shrugged. Now he was being theatrical, and he didn’t like they way it tasted in his mouth. He’d had a long struggle with paranoia, and he wasn’t sure who was winning anymore. It was hard not to, when you were living on the run most days, from the law, yes, but more importantly, much more sinister men over whom he’d probably choose jail if it came down to it. Just get in the damn car, Van, he chastised himself.

As it turned out, his worries had been unfounded, but he couldn’t say that surprised him. The limo that brought him pulled up to the imposing mansion, and he was ushered into the ballroom by a young woman who didn’t say a word. There were many others present, men in well-cut tuxedos and beautiful women in pretty dresses. At least, Van imagined them to be beautiful, he couldn’t see enough of any one person’s face to be sure. However, Van didn’t see a figure on any of the woman in the room that didn’t impress him. No one here was familiar to him, which was rather disappointing. Van was usually able to hone in on his target for the night as soon as he arrived since he made it his business to know who the wealthy were at any party. Ah well, he’d figure it out along the way, and if he didn’t, the night wouldn’t have to be a total loss. He could always scope out the ladies for pleasure rather than business, this once. He arrived just in time to hear the speech from their host; a rather enigmatic fellow, but no matter, it seemed as if they weren’t going to see much of him anyway.

The music started, and their host disappeared, and Van spared no time in getting right down to the nitty-gritty. He waltzed over to the first lady who caught his eye. She was seated at one of the many chairs lining the ballroom. It was difficult not to notice her, with her low-cut gold gown and her feathered peacock mask. Her figure was noticeable as well, slender and soft. Van could imagine himself running his calloused fingers down her ivory skin. Yes, she would do nicely.

“Would you care to dance?” he asked in his smoothest and most charismatic voice.

Skye turned her head to meet his intense eyes, rather annoyed at the interruption as she sipped her champagne carelessly. Of course, the one person she’d sized up as soon as he’d walked in as an egocentric personality would be the one who asked her to dance. There was something in his suggestive smirked that intrigued her, and she was sure he’d be just the sort of man she’d go for, if he were a bit younger. She had never been one of those girls who were enchanted by older men. Though, she was old enough for such an age gap to be of little consequence, she supposed. Still, she’d always found herself gravitating to men younger than her rather than older. Regardless, she knew it was better to avoid a man like that.

“No, thank you,” she replied simply, raising her glass to her lips once again and turning her head in the opposite direction.

Van felt no hurt pride, rather, he was intrigued. It was not often that he heard the word “no.”

“Then I suppose I’ll just have to stand here and wait for you to change your mind.”

“You’ll be standing there for a long time then,” she replied without meeting his eyes. “I’ll leave you to it.” She rose, walking away from the persistent man. It made her feel bold, and she rather liked it. She didn’t look back, merely walked across the dance floor to reach the opposite side of the room. She had to use the powder room anyway, so she went in search of one of the strangely silent escorts whom their host had instructed them to seek if the restroom was needed.

Van was left to widen his smirk and take the seat which the appealing woman had vacated as he watched her retreating figure. She looked just as good from behind as she had from the front. She’d won this little battle, but he hadn’t given up on her for the night. He would dance with her if it was the last thing he did. He chuckled under his breath and waved a server over. It was the same, silent girl who’d shown him in, and she was equally as silent as she had been the first time he’d met her. He asked if he could get anything stronger than champagne or punch, and the girl didn’t answer. She just flitted away like a sprite or a pixie, and returned not minutes later with a vodka martini. Well, the service was reliable at least. This night might not be a total loss if the drinks kept coming.

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Ian adjusted his mask with something approaching trepidation; it was not a feeling that struck him save in a few situations, most notably those in which he would be expected to interact with people. People were strange creatures, he had always found, and sometimes the mere sight of them was enough to send his mind spinning off somewhere other than where he had intended it to remain, until he was wandering along the paths of poetry, guided by the scent of music and the sound of color.

If such a thing would have been nonsensical for someone else, it was perfectly reasonable to him. On some level, he knew this was unusualoddfunnyweirdcrazy, but then consigning something as profound as a thought to something as simple as a mere category was not an indulgence he often partook of anyway. He’d much rather associate it with something that required more finesse. Perhaps an equation, or a melody.

He decided that contact lenses made his eyes feel stifledsuffocateduncomfortablewhitedirge, and was glad he had thought to slip his glasses into a pocket. Not that there would be much opportunity to replace one with the other, at least not if the mask was to remain in place with some semblance of dignity. And certainly, if the nature of the invitation and transportation was anything to go by, dignity was a requisite.

Of course, such social functions were not outside the realm of his experience; there are a certain number of things that growing up in a wealthy, traditional German family was bound to teach you, and comportment was one of those things. Still, there were obvious imperfections in his appearance that he was certain would not go unnoticed if anyone there scrutinized half as closely as his own father. His suit was elegant and tailored, but he did not move in it as naturally as he might have with more practice. His hair was well-groomed but just a shade too long, to say nothing of the hints of silver that shot through what was otherwise a pale blond hue. A genetic detriment; he need not worry about losing any of the fine pale strands, but they would all color to silver, perhaps before he was thirty-five. With the mask, he might be taken for a man older than he was.

His movements were contained, abbreviated, but they were not elegant. His limbs were too long for that. Dozens of small imperfections, but he of all people knew that human math was never perfect, and depending on the set of eyes, they would approach either zero or infinite clumsiness, like the edge of a parabola forever rocketing upwards. Unfortunate, but unchangeable. Social chameleon, Ian was not.

The limousine pulled in front to the polished exterior of the home, and he checked his coat as he had expected at the front. The butler was a gray somber promenade, an oracle among men, the blinded who espied, and for that the peculiar guest paid him a silent oath of respect. His escort lived in aquamarine and wisteria, quiet, so quiet. His own silence was a matching homage, and he was left to cling to the shadow of a wall whilst the host engaged all present with his voice.

Eyes with all the world’s pigment and none of its color swept more gracefully than his limbs ever could over the grand stage that had been set, and it occurred to Ian that he had always been audience-shy. The sensations were at first overwhelming, and he sensed perhaps a tension somewhere besides the bowstrings of the quartet, and wondered from whence it came. Surely it was not a tightness in his own heart, for that would hint at a level of involvement that he had not felt in too long to remember. If he had ever felt it. What need had the solitary of community? To be lonely in a room full of people was for him the simplest thing in the world, and he was a man for whom many things were simple.




Mischa had little else to offer the driver of her limousine but a smile, and this she gave in earnest. He seemed a tad confused by the brightness of the gesture, and she wondered if maybe it was a thankless sort of job. Sometimes, she had found, those who took such services for granted forgot to thank those who preformed them. Being from a more working-class background herself, she made it a personal prerogative never to do so.

Hence the genuineness of it. When one could not offer words, those strange things that could hold so much power and yet be thrown away as though they were nothing, one had to find some way to compensate, after all. Stepping out of the car, she regarded the mansion with something between awe and mere interest. It was strange; in so many ways, she had brushed at the elbows with this kind of elegance before, but it had never truly been hers. It was as though she was allowed to play in someone else’s world for a time, but when the end of the night came, there was always a reminder that she was not a princess but a poor girl.

It was not as disappointing as one might expect. After all, with the exception of the ballrooms she crossed in the heat of a competition, she had always found such places as the dwellings of royalty and wealth to be eerily cold, made perhaps all the worse by the fact that she had known little but warmth before. She was a creature of it, truth be told, that warmth, and she tried to carry it through in everything she did, not that the effort was really necessary.

Whoever had seen fit to make her without a voice had not taken from her her presence, and she glided where others walked, head held high even when it might be better to hide from the gazes of others- such was something she would not do differently.

Communicating with the blind man who received her might have been difficult, and fortunately enough, it was not necessary. She made her movements audible and deliberate enough to mark her presence without arrogance, and handed the invitation over to be checked. Led to the ballroom proper by a boy of a mischievous-seeming demeanor, her yes were immediately drawn to where their host, the enigmatic “Jonathon the Promise” as he titled himself, began to speak. His wordsmithing was most interesting; was he hiding something, or was she simply imagining that feeling she had about it?

A woman rushed by (Mischa avoided collision by moving aside deftly), saying something about a cigarette, and another followed a bit more sedately. There were two people in conversation by a cluster of chairs, and another man stood leaning against a wall. The woman in the discussion left, the man nearest her gazing after with a look that Mischa recognized but did not dwell upon. She was not much of a drinker, though she did enjoy the more fruit-flavored concoctions, and she gently waved away anything that was offered to her for the moment.

She wondered if any among them danced; the music was enchanting, and rather begged for someone to take advantage of this.

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An effeminate man with corkscrew, golden eyes that spun like honey nearly leaned his cheek against the limousine's tinted window—lover, take note, Felipe wouldn't dare making you feel like anything other than the most beautiful ficus plants, or the calla lily; all pure, snowy white and closed, high and mighty, without a reason. Tonight, Felipe wasn't Sansa Kealoha. He would sell his words to make it happen, and he wasn't going to tremble, not one bit. It was strange, though. Whoever invited him to this ball hadn't written it to just Sansa, but included his other countenance. The invitation came in the form of customized stationary; expensive paper that felt weathered to the touch, and smelt of old leather, with beautiful designs pressed into the material. Honestly, it reminded him of Hawi. Finished with a hardened dribbled wax seal, Charlotte Dole's symbol was pressed into it. Thoroughly impressed, it was the only reason Felipe even considered attending. Well, that's what he'd been convincing himself. He wouldn't admit otherwise that there was a certain enticing pull, as magnetic as the Earth circling the sun, shlepping him along whether he liked it or not—he'd already decided that he'd enjoy himself. This time, it was pleasure before business.

He brushed his fingers across his Persian mask, beyond the smooth exterior and polished ridges; an indirect description of who Felipe was, who he consistently tried to be. Sansa wore dresses like cages; they fell over his boy hips, and he wanted to tear them up with his boy hands, and boy teeth. Sometimes, he felt like this. Other times, he'd grown to accept his biological defect. Free thinker, free radical; Sansa and Felipe, both, had the right to be whomever they pleased. Over-gendered and genderless, he wore ambiguity just as handsomely as he wore his tailored suit. He preferred to dress more casually, so he modified his rugged outfit to suit his tastes. Wisely advise by his sharply-dressed friend; he donned a white, snug-fitting shirt with a couple buttons undone, sleeves rolled informally to his elbows (two fingers width, perfectly symmetrical); complimented with a rouge vest, lined theatrically (think Mafia-style) in the front, and black in the back; a brown Fedora hat with a peacocks plume tucked into the hat-band; and finally, his comfortable “clackers.” Named affectionately because of the pleasing slapping sounds they created whenever he walked on linoleum flooring. Felipe's slender fingers fell away from his mask and rested on his thigh; his body was a painful reminder that he couldn't live the way he truly wanted to, nothing would change that. His body was a conundrum, permanently stuck between the gender spectrum. Honestly, he didn't hate that he was biologically female. Each gender had its' own identifiable ups and downs. So, why then, had he been given this god awful body? Women and men alike would've argue, but if they knew the truth, they'd tear him to pieces. People couldn't possibly understand this. They'd never tried before, so why would they now?

Stupid boys with their stupid penises; and those stupid girls who needed them, in them. God.

Felipe sighed softly, cupping his hands at the sides of his head to peer through the tinted glass window separating him from the driver. Even if he was that boy-next-door kind of gentleman woman always swooned over, Sansa was the faintly whispering, sarcastic voice that tutted nonsense in his head. Nonsense like: Tequila would be welcome right now; stat. He clucked his tongue, and slumped back against the comfortable velvet. Apparently, they weren't taking everyone in the same vehicle. He could've sworn that he'd seen several sleek limousine's driving ahead of his—all heading in the same direction, which he wasn't even entirely sure of. It almost felt like he was wearing a burlap bag over his head, intentionally blind sided. Thankfully, he wasn't actually clubbed in the head, and he'd gone willingly into the solemnly dark limousine with the mute driver. Had he even said anything? No, of course not. Dark and creepy and twisty limousine, with a dark and scary and cloudy mute man.

Another thing I might've mentioned. Felipe and Sansa are incredible surgeons. Felipe loved holding scalpels in his hand just as much as Sansa did, but had never had the chance. Bringing this separate persona into the work force would've been devastating. His grasp on free will was paper thin; if his co-workers knew his secret, they'd spit him out like last weeks grilled cabala. He tapped his fingers against the armrest softly; it seemed like he wasn't even aware he was doing it, but he could already feel his heart pumping with renewed school-boy excitement. Felipe breathed through his nose sharply, and leaned precariously forward in his seat. He tapped on the window, and watched as it whooshed downwards. However, the driver hadn't even glanced back at him. For a moment, he sought out words to smooth out the awkward wrinkles of the non-conversation.

“So, I'm Felipe. What should I call you?”

Nothing; just silence.

“Not one for small talk. Huh.”

Again, Felipe was greeted with silence. However, the limousine soon rumbled to a stop and the window hissed back up, leaving him slightly bewildered. Looking out the window, he recognized nothing. Beautiful canopied trees hung heavy over the long driveway, and Felipe spotted carefully arranged plants tucked into healthy flower beds. Stunning cannas; oriental cherry blossoms; Columbine climbers; gorgeous hydrangea, small purple snowball puffs; dangling lily of the valley's; perennial black-eyed Susan's; blossoming bleeding hearts; and traditional roses in every colour imaginable. Said muted servant opened the car door and Felipe graciously thanked him, stepping out into the Wonderland-esque dream world. They weren't in Kansa any more, and he had to continuously pinch the back of his wrist to make sure he hadn't been slipped some kind of dream poppy—acid, or some kind of hallucinogenic drug. “Beautiful place,” He breathed, barely moving his lips. And now, the wondrous building came into sight and he found it hard not to let his mouth hang open; dry and symmetrically perfect. The building itself looked more like a palace than a mansion; all extravagant archways and demanding architecture, rounded staircases and explorable outfaces. Really, this was amazing.

Felipe's slender fingers rubbed his jawline, and he whistled appreciatively. Everything twinkled like his twelve-year-old dreams, and he knew that he wouldn't be able to wrap his head around things. Why had he even been invited? His mouth was dry, so he decided he'd follow the speechless servant inside. If it was so magnificent outside, what the hell was going to be inside? Polished objects and furniture passed him by, with several disbelieving sideways glances from the feminine-looking man. Lovely twins with gauze-taped mouths; gauze-eared musicians; and that ever-silent butler wearing sunglasses indoors. He sensed an ongoing theme going on, though continued on. The twins buzzed by, and both seemed equally mischievous—the woman two parts sweet, and the man a pinch more impish. He offered his invitation, and smiled mirthfully. The young man began offering his arm, but his twin settled her dainty fingers on his arm; both seemed perplexed. “Lead on,” the Surgeon offered, nodding his head and following them both into the large, intricately decorated ballroom. Again, he was astounded. It wasn't so much the room that caused him to stare, but the charismatic character sweeping his arms towards them; speaking with a voice that could capture the audience, and hold them there. Wherever they were, anyway. The man he'd come to learn as, “Jonathan the Promise, disappeared as soon as he'd come.

He licked his lips, seeking something in particular that would quench his thirst. Tequila, tequila. Felipe ignored the internal gibes and swept across the floors with the grace only the most dangerous predators possessed, seeking refuge amongst the chairs. Sharp-dressed men and woman wandered around, some disappearing outside for a breath of fresh air, and others staring towards the enchanting dance floor as if it'd conjure the courage to begin dancing. One particular woman caught his attention; she was something out of Fatal Attraction, all long legs, exotically tan skin and silky, blonde hair. Was it as soft as it looked? Felipe wouldn't mind finding out. He couldn't help but laugh at his own weakness, and immediately decided it would be best to strike up a conversation with the least likely person he'd like to sweep off their feet. Swooping was bad; sweeping, whatever. As he walked towards the chairs, a woman placed a drink in his hand; smooth vodka, on the rocks. Liquor was to be savoured and enjoyed, not slopped down stupidly. So, he only sipped on it. Felipe's footfalls found him facing a rather rugged-looking man holding a vodka Martini, obviously watching women as they passed. Perhaps, he'd join him.

“Strange place, isn't it?”

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“Jesus H. Christ.” It was really just taunting him.

Come closer, weakling. Take a sip. Love me the way you loved her last night. I know you can’t resist me.

“Whore.” Mike muttered under his breath and grabbed up the gin and tonic. Everyone was watching him. Upon closer investigation, no one was watching him. The gin and tonic was watching him and kissing at him and licking at his throat the way a one night stand let go of every inhibition. She wouldn’t be seen after that night, so be wild, be crazy, be a total freak and please the man.

Yes. The gin and tonic, held firmly in his large, man hands, was a giant whore. And Mike couldn’t help himself, he had to pay his due respects.

As the drink, mixed perfectly into one beautiful concoction, worked its stinging way down his throat, he glanced over the crowd of well-doers. Or at least, those who appeared to be well-doers. He could boast knowing every face in a crowd most of the time, but masks hindered his knowledge. With a shrug of broad shoulders, he began sauntering his way around the young woman and men, nodding, smiling. Who cared if he couldn’t tell who they were? After many more gins and even a few parts vodka, Mike could give a shit less if he was dancing with a horned chicken and not the most beautiful girl at the ball.

What he was really avoiding, what Mike wouldn’t be able to face at all, was his little sister. He may have appeared lax and at ease, but his eyes were always watching, praying that she wasn’t the one who bumped into him, alcoholic beverage in hand. Ella hated booze. She hated it when Mike drank it more and she wouldn’t let him live it down. It’s not like she ruled over him or anything, but she was really all he had and making her angry wasn’t exactly something he wanted. There seemed to be enough people around that he wouldn’t be running into her any time soon, so for now, he took another wonderful sip of the drink he knew he shouldn’t be drinking.

The introduction had been rather enticing and set Mike’s mood even a bit higher. He imagined what all the riddles and ambiguous sentences could mean (because the riddles were there, he knew it), but chose to just enjoy himself. This Jonathon guy seemed like the kind of man that said you were having a good day and, god dammit, you were having a good day. Michaelis Miller, party extraordinaire, public relations phenom, go-getter, and all around great guy, was no stranger to a fantastic party. He made this well known just by walking around, shoulders back and head high, almost like he owned the place. Not really meaning to do it on purpose, he just sort of, did it.

One woman, all tanned skin, blonde hair and great body, was standing silently at the edge of the dance floor. He could practically feel her legs twitching with anticipation. His answered. A dance or two sounded nice. That young woman who obviously wanted to dance, sounded nicer. As if telepathic, or something crazy like that, the young yellow haired twin, the girl that had escorted him with silence into the ballroom, was suddenly at his side, tray out to take his gin and tonic. Mike smiled, nodded his head, and relieved himself of his heavy burden. The service here was spectacular. How did he get help like this at the parties he planned? He’d have to speak with this Jonathon the Promise fellow sometime later.

With an equal amount of grace, polite intrusion, and jovial smiles, Mike grabbed hold of the young woman’s hand and gently escorted her onto the dance floor, falling seamlessly into step with the music. He wasn’t a stranger to ballroom dancing, since all his brothers and sisters had practically been forced into the classes. His parents were all about family functioning and somehow dancing had made the most sense. Mike had hated it at the time. At this very moment, trying to see the woman behind the mask, he was very thankful to his raising.

With a genuine smile on his face, Mike held her confidently in his arms and twirled her about the dance floor.

“You look like you really needed to get moving,” he started, speaking to her and her alone. “I am certainly wondering why more people aren’t dancing as well.” Jesus, she was beautiful. And with the white mask hiding what features could distinguish a person from another, she became an alluring mystery, all dark skin and perfect curves.

Mike was beginning to think this night was going to go off very well.



To be, or not to be, that is the question. Well, that was the question on Mariella’s mind as unsure hands showed the invitation to a ball she had surely been invited to. Was the butler blind? He took her coat just fine. Could he see her?

Just once more. A grimace as she pinched her thigh through the heavy fabric of her dress. The crinoline underneath it gave an added scratching affect that made her one pinch closer to being absolutely positive that she’d been invited to a Masquerade. Invited to something. Invited period. It had to have been someone who knew Mike. That was the only sensible explanation. But why so formal? Why invite them separately? Why make them even ride in limousines separately? It seemed inconceivable that she would go anywhere, dressed to the hilt in clothing Mike had picked out for her.

Mariella was wearing the clothes a model should, with the body of a girl who hit puberty just a little too soon. Models were flat chested, graceful, angular. Mariella was awkward, a bit too tall for these heels, and really not liking the way her hair was slicked back on the sides and blown up under the mask. Her dull brown hair should not be the background to the silvery moon. But Mike and the stylist he’d hired insisted. She was… striking?

Whatever. Ella just kept on walking, escorted by a young man who looked at her oddly (a way that made her stomach get butterflies and her hair stand up) and actually seemed to take notice of her. But, as soon as he safely had her within the confines of a ballroom that left her breathless, he forgot who she was or that he’d even led her here. That was Mariella’s thought process anyway. Not that she pitied herself. The young photographer would much rather spend her time behind the lens, unnoticed and totally forgotten. Her pictures spoke her mind and that was all that mattered.

Right now, she wanted very badly to get this “Jonathon the Promise” fellow undressed. Just take pictures of him all night long. His body was spectacular. The way he moved, the way his clothes fit against him. She wanted to take a picture of every part of him from head to toe. But in an instant, he was gone and the quartet with gauze where ears should be began playing. This entire thing was starting to feel weirder and weirder and she really wanted to know where Mike was. The male escort offered her a flute of champagne and she declined. Alcohol was not going to make this even any better. He waved his hand toward a table covered in appetizers and Mariella’s eyes widened.

“Thank you…” she trailed off, her feet carrying her to the table covered in delicious treats. Alcohol may not make her feel better, but a few sweets certainly would. A cherry tart caught her eye. How delightful. How incredibly delightful and horribly wrong it was that she had not brought her small camera. Everything about this place needed to be sealed away in forever with a photograph. How could she have been so clumsy to have forgotten to bring it? No matter. With the cherry tart spreading sweet loveliness over her tongue, Mariella sank away in the sugar for just as long as it would last.

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#, as written by X64
Sebastian Von Nacht

As the limosuine pulled up in front of the apartment complex, Sebastian was looking at it from the living room window of his small apartment. Why am I even going? He thought, unsure of himself, Everyone there is going to be better-looking, or smarter, or better.....me, I'm not anything.... He looked at the invitation in his hand. For such a small thing, it shouldn't have been possible for it to instill so much dread in him.
But.....he was already dressed to go. He even had the mask on. Besides, it wasn't like he had any choice. Sighing, he turned away from the window and left. When Sebastian got out of the building, he was surprised that the limo was still waiting for him. Did the driver know about his mental issues? With a trembling hand, he opened the door to the limo and got in.

"Ello, chap."

"Wah!" Sebastian let out a frightened yelp as he found himself sitting next to a man wearing a rather fashionable tuxedo. "W-who are you?!" Sebastian stammered, his heart pounding from the scare.
"Name's Dexter Ashcroft. It's a pleasure."
As Dexter smiled at him, Sebastian couldn't help but want to fling himself out of the car....but it was too late. They were already on thier way to the masquerade ball.

About an hour later, they finally arrived. They had been one of the last ones to arrive, but that was just fine to Sebastian. Hopefully, I can slip in without having to talk to anyone... He thought, as he and Dexter followed the butler inside. The entire car ride, Dexter had kept trying to speak with him, but Sebastian had simply been too afriad to say anything back.
Now, however, Sebastian was busy trying to find a place to hide. Jonathan the Promise had been interesting and all, but all the people were making Sebastian so nervous that he was shaking rather badly. Good thing he was leaning against the wall, so it didn't show as much. However, he was right next to the women's bathroom, so he got more than a few strange looks.

This ball is going to be the death of me...
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Dexter Estrama Ashcroft

As Sebastian made off, Dexter couldn't help but think that the bloke had been rather rude. He practically ignored him the entire ride, sometimes beginning to stammer a sentence or two but then just giving up altogether. Poor chap must have been quite nervous... Dex thought, leaning against a wall near the doors of the ballroom.
Standing in the ballroom, it would have been easy to believe that he was in some sort of fairytale. However, Dex wasn't looking at the architecture. He was looking at all the clothes everyone was wearing, analyzing them, thinking of what ideas that they could contribute to his designs. It was a habit of his; he simply couldn't help it. He thought that maybe he should find someone to dance with, but he quickly dispelled the thought. This was simply too good to pass up, this chance to come up with more ideas. However, he was a bit peckish. Removing himself from the wall, he waltzed over to a table covered in every kind of treat that could be imagined. He spied a girl eyeing a cherry tart. He sauntered over, stopping to stand right next to her.

"That tart looks real tasty." He said to her, in an attempt at conversation, "Looks practically plastic, in my opinion."

(Sorry for the really short posts)

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#, as written by Odyne
Wordlessly, Lila held up her lighter, observing the girl cautiously. Jetta didn't seem to balk at her appearance, her eyes jovial and accepting. At that moment, a revelation broke to Lila. Why am I on the ground in a borrowed dress at a party? she pondered, giving a little sigh at the ridiculousness of her actions. So it's a ball. You can do this. You've been in a room of naked people before, why do dresses and tuxes intimidate you? Suck it up! Say something! Braving a small smile, she brought herself to a squat and with some effort, to her feet. Flicking open the Zippo, she held the flame to what appeared to be a hand-rolled cigarette and waited for the tell-tale glowing ember before closing the lid and tossing it back into her purse. The smell of skunky marijuana wafted beneath her nostrils, leaving her nose burning.

"Lila," she replied, decidedly giving her the respect of smoking pot without saying a word about it. Lila contemplated her statement about the massive mansion looming behind her, taking a moment to inspect the garden. There were multiple species of flowers and trees in blossom, some of which she had never seen before. Their colors were muted beneath the full moon hanging in the sky, the light playing off of a small bubbling fountain. Sculptures of gods and muses splayed in assorted risque positions seemed to reach out for her, their faces fixed in dreamy euphoria. The expanded terrace was made with creamy terracotta tiles, the rails draped in gauzy taffeta and tiny firefly lights. She turned her head, the polished tiles and many roofs of the towering empire behind her driving lofty music around them. "It's...magical," she murmured, awe-struck. Her resolve recompensed, she smiled apologetically. "It's very nice to meet you, but I reckon I should get back in there." Shaking Jetta's hand warmly, she finished off her cigarette and turned to the French doors once more. "I'll see you again, I'm sure!"

The quartet finished their first song and everyone clapped respectably, including Lila. The next song began as a punchy melody and Lila could feel the excitement ripple through the crowd . She looked around the ballroom. A few people were already dancing, smiling, laughing and drinking...and a few were standing against walls or sitting alone, their jitters apparent, making her feel a little better about her own outburst.

She began swinging her hips, unable to resist the bewitching tune. Dancing toward the other couples, she squealed, "AYAYAYAYEEE!" Timid wouldn't do tonight; she knew people were beginning to stare and she wouldn't have it any other way.

Lila rose her arms above her head and slowly, salaciously, rolled them through her hair, over her neck, and her chest until reaching her hips. From the corner of her eye, she saw a timid boy standing near the Women's restroom, looking simply delicious in silver and black. She playfully strolled towards him in time to the music, wearing her best "come hither" expression. Without a word of permission, she draped one arm around his neck and snaked the other around his waist, her eyes locked in his azure gaze. Mistaking his shaking for desire, she undulated gently against his hips. Lila wouldn't plead for a dance tonight. She would take what's hers, one way or another and "no" was not an option.

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Jetta smiled softly as the girl light her joint. She seemed cautious, maybe fearful of the night to come. By the way she was dressed and acted, she did not appear to be from the same world as the people who belonged at the masquerade ball. Jetta however, was never one to judge and didn’t belong here either.

“Lila” said the girl, not saying a word about the joint. Jetta smiled casually as she made an effort to push her smoke away from Lila. She was happy that Lila didn’t make a big deal about the weed. As far as Jetta was concerned, weed was practically completely legal anyway.

Before Jetta could respond, Lila said “It's very nice to meet you, but I reckon I should get back in there" As she shook Jetta’s hand. Before Jetta thought to say another word, Lila had disappeared into the masked party.

Jetta shrugged her shoulders as she stared out into the moonlight, letting the beautiful herb take her away, to a better life than her own. One where lighting up was not necessary and when one heard the word “Baked” they where referring to their chips. Jetta giggled lightly at the thought, yearning for the shakes to go away. Her hand trembled as she brought the joint back to her lips. Just the rough papery feel of it on her lips was almost orgasmic. Or, quite close to it.

Jetta let out three smoke Os and watched them as they floated into the sky, disappearing into the moon light. The Os were like sweet, sweet candy. Delicious, precious, treasured.... but short lived.

“The stars.. they are so bright tonight…” Jetta mused to herself, thinking of sleeping under the moonlight. To just forget… to just sleep while covered by a silver veil, without a single worry.

“Mhhh” Jetta purred as she mused. A small chill tingled through her body. It was starting to get a bit nippy out. Jetta sighed as she put out her joint, letting to cool before she put it in a flower pot for latter. She wasn’t too baked, just subdued due to her tolerance level.

She strolled along the lovely stone of the garden. The flowers seemed to whisper to her, enticing her “Dance my love, Dance. Forget my love, Forget” Jetta shook her head in confusion and kept moving for the French doors.

“Gotta cut back on the weed” She said to herself as she passed back into the ball.

“Meet them Love, Wish on it my Love” said the tiny, soft voices. They were such persuading voices.

At that, Jetta rushed into the ball room with a whisp of panic. She quickly got out a strong perfume that smelled of vanilla and hints of wild berries. If her brother were to catch her smelling like weed, oh, all hell would be unleashed upon her.

Jetta then scanned the room, analyzing the people there, the situations unfolding. There were so many people, it was hard to keep track of them all. The so called "Jonathan Promise" was no where to be found. Some people were sitting, eating the food, chugging drinks or scoping out the tail. Scoping out the tail was what Jetta felt like doing, that or hitting the dance floor. Then, before Jetta could even open her mouth to ask the waiter for what had just popped into her mind, he was there.

“Oh snap!” Jetta exclaimed. The boy simply stood there politely as expectantly looked at her. A devious little tinge shinnied in his eyes.

“Oh ummm… Uh, could I get some Sex on the Beach please?” Jetta teased with a surprised stammer. The boy quickly brought back the drink, letting a bit of amusement escape in his eyes before he was gone once again. Jetta found herself shrugging her shoulders for the second time that night. The whole place just made Jetta want to shrug her shoulders.

“Who to talk to? Hmmm.. Drinks first, dancing latter.” Jetta whispered to herself as she spotted a man listening to the music. He looked tall, gangly, and silver haired. He appeared to be intelligent, in the way he carried himself and studied things. Maybe it was just a vibe. Jetta had no idea what to do with herself at the moment and something was telling her she needed to get to know the people here. She wasn’t an exceptionally smart or dumb person, but she always enjoyed those with wit and a talent for words. It was charming. Being inelegant and successful, those were the things Jetta should have been, in that other world. Maybe, she could talk to the silver haired man and pretend. Pretend for just one night that she was important.

Jetta pulled up her dress, to cover up more and appear classy. She began to stroll over, trying to disguise the graceful yet passionate steps of a true dancer. She kept her head held high, trying not to sway much.

Jetta neared the silver haired man, smiling with the confidence of those in power. She sipped her sex on the beach, trying in vain to appear fancy. One can not be fancy when drinking sex on the beach.

“Hey there” Jetta greeted as she appraised him, guessing at what type of man this was. Something about him was so… Intriguing. Something compelled her to know more. “The musicians… I wonder how they play so beautifully with gauze in their ears?” Jetta asked him as she looked at the musicians who played the music of enchantment.

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The room was a mess of sensation already, a shadowplay of desperate hands reaching blindly in the dark, points of light flitting about erratically without noticing that there were others doing the same, and every contact, however deliberate, was to his eyes a complete accident, a random collision dictated only by the wildest probabilities and the intervention of human wills that could not be numerically expressed but still possessed the characteristic effervescence of that which came to life as an amalgamation of one-in-a-millions and would wink out in much the same way, having left a shadow of a mark on something, somewhere, as its only memento. Just like something random, but with deliberateness. Atoms connecting and disconnecting in the void, an old Greek man drawing a triangle in the sand at his feet, insisting that nothing was taught or learned, only remembered.

Some were so vibrantly alive that it almost hurt to look at them, some seemed to linger on the edge of a crevasse, wavering between one side and another without ever thinking to build a bridge between them. At least one was half-dead and didn't know it. Ian knew it, though, in the strange scant-explicable way that he knew so many things, though the specifics were lost on him in the whirl of resplendence and the thrumming of music in his bones. Why was never the right question where he was concerned, only how.

Presently, he was approached by a woman. To say "a woman in a red dress" was to do an awful disservice to the sorts of things that Ian was both trained to instantaneously notice and also instinctively reached for. Dark hair, eyes, artificially marred grace, the scent of something illegal. But then there was also the illusory bass throbbing beneath his feet, something that did not exist in the present reality, but somehow got associated with her all the same. There was a fence, chain-linked and rusting but standing all the same, and henna and picket signs and other things he knew by name but not experience.

For all this, the greeting that passed into the space between them was starkly ordinary, which dispelled the unreality and subsumed the current moment in its place once more. There were people whose heads were always in the clouds; Ian's was always somewhere else entirely, at least until he remembered himself and angled his thoughts back to the immediate. There was a moment, perhaps too long, in which he pondered her question with all solemnity, not because he did not know the answer, but because articulating it in a way that would make any sense to someone else was not an instantaneous process for him.

His head tilted noticeably to one side, and he looked for a moment at nothing but the deafened maestros, but then he blinked and his gaze cleared, coming back to rest on the woman's face. "It is felt, not heard. The instruments are hollow; sound waves produce vibration... after long enough, this can replace the sound. Beethoven was deaf." He recalled the distinct impression of elongated digits pressed firmly, precisely over strings upon the neck of a cello, all reddish wood and emptiness that simply begged to be filled with those selfsame transcendent reverberations.

The corner of Ian's mouth twitched into something resembling a smile. "But surely you would know that?" A pause; his question had not been meant of condescension, merely a ready association with something he knew-but-did-not-know. "I apologize. Sometimes, I am told, I say things I should not." Chances were, she'd simply been trying for small-talk, and he'd completely ruined it. This was a rather common occurrence. Straightening from where he was leaned against the wall, he brought himself to his full 6'7" and then bowed slightly, as he'd been taught in childhood. "Ian Schaffer, fraulein. Er- miss, that is. A pleasure."




Mischa was watching the near-empty dance floor, thinking that it really was a shame it was going unused, for the music was simply excellent. She was not the sort of woman that necessarily would have wanted to wait around to be asked, but given that her equivalent would be a bit difficult to communicate, she was often forced to anyway. She thought about casting an unmistakably come-hither glance at someone, but then that might give off the wrong impression, mightn't it?

As it turned out, her silent battle was abruptly put to an end with the appearance of a man wearing nothing less than a checkered blazer. Normally, she would have thought such a thing amusing in the very least, but there was no mistake- this was the sort of person who had enough presence to get away with it. Clearly, he was also of the belief that he could get away with sweeping her across the dance floor as he liked, but this did not affront Mischa. Rather, it amused her, and reminded her of something her uncle had always been fond of saying: A man 'leads' the dance, but he does not control it. In the end, that falls to the purview of a woman. After all, it is she who draws the eye and she who weaves the most intricate steps.

The present musical selection was a rather charming waltz, and she frankly though that if her music was always this good, she might be in trouble, for she may be disinclined to stop. As it was, she allowed the charming stranger, all small courtesies and prominent smiles, to whisk her about, but never once did she lose control of her pacing, and each foot fell exactly where it was supposed to, the very picture of composed grace and airiness, as a waltz was meant to convey.

There was little her feet could not express, but her face took care of the rest; her expression equal parts wry amusement at his forwardness, genuine happiness at the result, and the subtlest of challenges: just how well do you dance? This was more than an idle entertainment for Mischa, after all, it was her very profession. Though she did not expect the same of anyone here, it was still a little contention that she could not resist, and it drew her back into the place she was so fond of, the one she could only reach when wheeling across a ballroom floor like this. A small, inscrutable smile, a glint to the honey color of her eyes behind the mask, and just a tiny bit of threat in her motion.

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Mariella turned to look at the voice beside her and then let her eyes fall back on the tart in her hand. Oh, yes, it looked good. So good she could barely stand it. And he felt the same way, it appeared. His statement about it being plastic was more than accurate. Something about how perfect everything was made her mind twinge a little. Maybe everything was a little too perfect? Which was exactly why it needed to be trapped inside her film, in her mind and in her thoughts for all time. Mariella really could beat herself up over not bringing her camera with her.

Turning, holding the tart between her finger and thumb she smiled at the stranger. It was very odd that he’d chosen to speak to her, when there were probably many other, very interesting, people around to talk to. Really, Ella wasn’t used to being pointed out and spoken to, unless she was working. Even then, however, she was not the center of attention. Not that she cared. Ella was just fine with being in the background. It was just odd feeling when someone picked her out.

Smiling sweetly at him, trying not to let her thoughts get the best of her, she noted his British accent and nodded.

“It really does. Would you like to split it?” Her eyes, made up with black and silver eye shadow and lined heavily, peered out from behind her silver mask adorning the moon. He was taller than her, which was nice. Most men she’d ever met were shorter than she was. Mike could always boast being taller than her, but he tended to tease her with it. She was just too tall for her own good, so this gentleman was a nice change. He was intriguingly suave, which was probably because he was British.

Oh god… She wasn’t stereotyping, was she? She’d never actually met a British man yet. Italian, Moroccan, a few Japanese and even a Frenchman, but not a British one yet. Her night may turn out to be okay. Well, that was her thought as she waited for his answer. Sharing was never a problem for her. Growing up with as big a family as she it became second nature.



Hm… not much of a talker. This was quite a surprise, actually. Mike loved talking. He loved small talk, pillow talk, chit-chat, mumbo-jumbo; all that good stuff. Any woman he’d ever met, slept with, dated, bumped into, they all talked a lot too. Ella was one of the quietest people he knew and that was mostly because she was so inward. Always stuck in her pictures. It was cute. When out together he did all the talking, actually. It didn’t bother him.

This beautiful woman, held tight in his arms as he lead her about the dance floor, didn’t utter a syllable. Mike thought over it for a few seconds and decided that it didn’t bother him. She was beautiful and really knew her way around a waltz. He could feel her muscles tensing and untensing as if she knew what he was going to do next. Her eyes gleamed up at him, all kinds of things being sent his way. Mike wasn’t the best at reading people. It had caused him a lot of pain in his earlier years and even sometimes now he would have to seek out help to get out of a tight spot.

This lady, however, made it plain and simple. She was happy. She was intrigued. She didn’t have to talk to him. He didn’t have to talk to her. It was a feeling he’d never had before. Yeah, she’d been here before. Staring at a partner, knowing his next movement in the dance, knowing what she needed to do in order for it to work. Her dress moved with her body, sometimes wrapping around one of his legs with the breeze they created in their own little world. It was all music, legs, and questions. Questions with the eyes, the mind, the body. Mike was perplexed but thoroughly enjoying himself. He let her go for a second, holding only her fingers as he twirled her. She did so, perfectly. His smile widened and when she came back to his arms he couldn’t help himself.

“You’re incredible.” Mike just had to talk. “I take it you’ve done this a time or two?” His smile was charming, without really meaning to be. He chuckled inwardly at the way she pressed against him, letting him know that she wasn’t to be lead like a dog but lead like a woman. He wouldn’t dare. She was a dancing force to be reckoned with and he was quickly realizing that he was very much the novice in this partnership.

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The strong liquid burned as it went down his throat, but Van had always liked that particular side-effect. And the smell… where some couldn’t stomach the sharp odor of the vodka mixing with the dry tang of vermouth, he’d always found it rather pleasant. The speared olive rolled around in the martini glass as he held it between his fingers where it rested against the top of his palm. He brushed the rim of the glass with his thumb as he watched the proceedings from his seated position at the side of the ballroom. People were dancing now, and others were engrossed in private conversations in quiet corners of the room, and near the refreshments. In one instance(which Van found particularly amusing)a vivacious young lady in a stunning red dress forced a shy looking boy onto the dance floor. Van had to chuckle at that. Poor bastard. He didn’t exactly look inclined to dance.

It seemed as if the room was suddenly coming to life; as if it were beginning to shed its first skin composed of mystery, and, if Van were being completely honest, creepiness. For it had been there, as soon as he’d entered the place. Most mansions seemed to writhe with the spirits of its long dead inhabitants; the walls singing with voices from the distant past. Perhaps it was the knowledge of the sheer number of years places like these had been standing. It was hard not to think of the past--of the dead--in mansions such as this. Not to mention, that its current inhabitants did nothing to dispel the feeling of disquiet which had crept into his being from the moment the limo had arrived for him. It was a feeling which had only increased upon his arrival to this strange and wondrous place. From the stoic butler hiding behind dark shades, the unusually silent escorts, and the cryptic host himself, Van could not help but feel something, here, in this place, was… off. He couldn’t quite put his finger on what, but it was there, at the back of his mind nonetheless.

But now, it was if the proverbial curse had been lifted, and the magical castle was returned to its true form. The guests within seemed to be slowly shedding their inhibitions and beginning to have a good time. The shroud of mystery was dissipating. It was becoming a party, but a party which it seemed he would not be able to partake part in, for the moment. Others had already beaten him to the lovely ladies, or, as in that one instance, the ladies had taken matters into their own hands. He could wait, though, he was a patient man, and the night was young. For now, he could rest easy and enjoy his expertly made beverage. It was… the best martini he had heretofore tasted. Van nodded, impressed. He’d been right about the service being excellent.

As engrossed in his drink as he was, Van had not noticed the light footfalls until the man they belonged to was directly in front of him. His eyes looked up to meet the stranger’s, and he noticed there was a playful glint in the two vibrant pools of honey, even--or maybe especially--behind his mask. His appearance belied a femininity that was not unpleasant, rather, interesting. He was a pretty boy in the nicest sense of the word. Perhaps it was the stranger’s sheer out-of-the-ordinariness which Van found refreshing. You did not meet someone like this everyday, and it took a lot for Van to take notice of a person of the opposite sex. This man had that something, and Van found his interest piqued. He waited, the man seemed as if he were going to speak.

“Strange place, isn’t it?”

Van chuckled.

“I’d say that was something of an understatement, friend,” he replied. He took a bit longer to look the man over, and then nodded, as if he’d just decided something. In a way, he had. He’d decided to break one of his rules.

He had many rules. They mostly involved never staying in one place for too long, and never moving in any predictable patterns which could be tracked by the wrong people. He did, however, have more simple rules for situations like these; parties like this one, and one of them was as follows: never waste time seeking the friendship of people who couldn’t loan him money. He could tell from the more simple manner of dress which the man adopted, as opposed to many of the much more elaborately dressed in the room, that he fell into this category, yet, it seemed he was breaking that rule tonight. Why? He still wasn’t completely sure. Maybe it was the atmosphere. Maybe it was the people who, though he was still largely unacquainted with them, seemed to have more substance, more depth than anyone he’d met in quite a while.

Van reached his hand out to the stranger in that age-old gesture. “The name’s Donovan Petrov, but I’ll let you call me Van since you seem like such a swell guy,” he said with a hint of humor, offering a crooked smile to go along with the handshake.

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A mass of people twirled about on the dance floor, dainty fingers entwining with strong, calloused hands and leaving each other, only to be snatched up once more. Each mask was more beautiful than the last, a thin reminder that there was someone hiding beneath it. Who is it your dancing with? You can never tell, and Felipe guessed that was what the enticing thrill was. Lavish dresses and high-end suits, all are flowing to the seemingly darkened cords streaming from those elegant musicians; hands extensions to their instruments, plucking and slipping and sliding, to create the most beautiful melody. Paper faces appeared to look like porcelain, and it left Felipe idly wondering where they'd attained their masks. In all honesty, a small package had come with the impressively tendered letter—a mask that complimented the only suit he owned; black and white, gilded with silver. It was odd. In the company of shadows and strange men and women, he couldn't help but shudder against the peculiar feeling the masquerade hall invoked. Why had they been invited, and what was the purpose of the ball?

His stomach warmed against the strong liquor that burned down his throat. Felipe blamed the rocky mixture for such idiosyncratic thoughts. He couldn't help but think that he didn't belong here, and doubted very much that any of them did—such mansions, thrashing with regal intentions and properly celebrated events, didn't hold strangers who seemed as misplaced as he was. Lush, deep red curtains, drawn back as custom decrees, didn't make him feel any less anxious. For once, he'd be glad to breathe in fresh air and stumble out into the starry night. The night didn't threaten to engulf you, and the night didn't hold gauze-covered inhabitants that refused to talk, see, or hear. Well, unless you were in some kind of crazy zombie movie. Did anyone else feel this disquiet, or was he just feeling paranoid? Plucking the fabric of his tailcoat, he resumed his attentions on the rugged-looking man; weather-beaten from experience, and hawkish in manifestation. His dark eyes spelled tragedy, or unasked questions. If he had the ability to see straight through him, he wouldn't have doubted it. Perhaps, he felt as out of place as Felipe did.

Felipe's dark hair was beneath the constriction of a single piece of elastic that ran around his head, keeping his masquerade mask over his face, barely making room for his golden eyes to survey the room at a leisurely pace. But now, his attention was on this man sitting calmly, twirling the olive in his Martini. Any image of a small boy sitting by himself at prom quickly disappeared; this man was all sheer confidence and patience, waiting for his chance. Felipe resisted the urge to place a hand on his hip, and arched an inquisitive eyebrow, finishing his drink. As soon as he'd gulped down the last drop, one of the twins glided in and took his glass, replacing it with a smooth rum and coke. Funny, it'd been just what he was thinking about having. Thoroughly impressed, he only gawked after the serving man. Psychic? Maybe. Coincidence? Probably. The mansions unwelcome enigmas' would surely vamoose along with his own inhibitions, the more he drank. A pharmaceutical voice admonished that it'd be best to keep a clear head; Sansa disagreed, she always did. Hearing shrill laughter and bouts of excitement rattling across the marble floors, Felipe couldn't help but glance over his slender shoulders. Whatever reserves the guests had been holding back quickly retired for the night; slipped back into their pockets so they could enjoy the night and have a good time. Maybe later, he'd end up joining them; but as Sansa, or Felipe, he couldn't be sure.

The jewelled ball pulsed with wry amusement, laughing and singing with its' dancers as they twirled and threw their arms over their heads. Felipe could only grin in response, looking down at the older man who seemed wholly engrossed in his perfected drink. The arched ceiling illuminated by thousands of dim lights watched anxiously, casting lustrous reflections across Van's plated mask. It created a mysterious, but classy effect. A small smile tugged on the sides of his lips; his honey eyes promised good conversation and sated appetites. It was a shame that Sansa couldn't unabashedly act on her feminine desires; her reserves were full of mischievousness, and she wished she could ayayaya along with that redheaded woman. Instead, he brazenly stood as a man should and awaited the stranger's response.

“I keep expecting The Promise to sweep in here again, and say that this' just some joke,” Felipe quipped mirthfully, glancing around for justification. If Jonathan the Promise had swept back in announcing that it'd all been some piss poor joke, or an experiment to see how the social ladder worked, he wouldn't of been surprised. Nothing, he was sure, would've surprised him tonight. He caught Van looking him up and down; as if deciding if he was suitable company, or as if he'd figured him out. The look in his eyes told him that nothing really escaped him. Small goosebumps prickled across Felipe's forearms, and his stomach flopped from more than the comfortable tingle of alcohol thrumming through his bloodstream. All men could be Sansa's worst enemy, especially if they found out her true identity. None were too kind, then. Mercy was reserved for women.

When Van reached out his hand, Felipe gladly took it and shook it with the grace of a woman, and the strength of a man. It was nice that old niceties hadn't died. “Felipe LeBlanc, and you can call me whatever's easier to pronounce.” He introduced, nodding his head. Liar. He almost felt guilty. He matched his smile with one of his own and eyed him suspiciously, flopping down next to him. “So, what brought you here—fancy, curiosity, or that incredibly personal letter?” Felipe's mouth eased into a frown, before quickly grinning again. “Must say, I've never been to a masquerade before.” Dirty, writhing bars were more his style, or crummy pubs. Whichever suited his mood. He wondered whether or not Van had wondered the same thing—what was so special about Felipe LeBlanc, or Donovan Petrov? Or any of them, for that matter.

A mirthful twinkle danced behind Felipe's mask and a smirk curled across his lips. He slouched in his seat, draping one hand across his face. In the most casual voice he could muster, he said, “We should make a wager; a parlay between new acquaintances.” His stomach flopped with renewed excitement. Gambling and bets might've been his middle name. Sloshing the contents of his drink in small circles, he eyed Van from his peripherals. He might've thought he was odd, but that was fine. “Let's see who can manage a dance, first,” He added, chuckling softly. “Awful habit, I know.” He brought the glass to his lips, draining its contents and gave a satisfied sigh.

Everyone loved a good wager, right?

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:v i v i a n n a h:

I fidgeted in my seat as I waited for the limousine to come to a stop. I chewed on my lip and kicked at the empty seats across from my own, fingering the edge of the mask that I had discarded next to me, providing more comfort for the ride there than anything else. Actually, I was glad it was a masquerade. Maybe I wouldn't have been comfortable otherwise. No... that's a lie. I'm perfectly comfortable in whatever environment I'm thrown into, just so long as it follows my destiny. There's something I'm meant to do in this world... and it might not be some great achievement, but it's something, and I have to accept it. I do accept it.... I try, at least. Still... sometimes it's cruelly unfair, and that can be a very harsh lesson to learn. For some reason, though, I felt wrong and out of place in the limousine, like I was betraying myself somehow. I tried to convince myself that it was because I had told Mitsuki that I couldn't work tonight and she had begged me because someone important was going to be there and no one made better sushi there than I did. But I still had to let her down. Funny thing, though, that someone who's never been able to try sushi can be such a genius at making it, right? I mean, there was that one time that I tried it just to see if I was maybe only allergic to certain kinds of fish.... No luck. It wasn't pretty. Luckily I'm not deathly allergic, I just swell up really bad like I've been stung in the face about fifty times by the same wasp. Whatever I did to that wasp, I'm really sorry. Oh well. I live with it by just not eating fish. Simple and logical.

Finally, after what seemed like hours, we arrived and I was allowed out by the driver who hadn't spoken a word to me at all, even as a greeting. I wasn't really offended at all; I just thought it was odd. As I stepped out, I stopped and stared at him. He still didn't say anything. I waved at him, but he didn't return it. Finally replacing my mask, I decided I would speak for him. "You look lovely, sir." And I smiled at the thought of such a classy... uhmmm... limo driver... calling another man lovely. But still I just smiled and tilted my head to one side. I needed to reply to myself, speaking for the driver, didn't I? Maybe he'd realize that I was interested in speaking to him. "Thank you, I used a whole paycheck on this suit and had to live off those sixty cent cup noodles for a week." He still refused to say anything in response, so I frowned and turned back away from him. "Have a wonderful evening, sir." As I was about to walk away, I saw him bow ever slightly to me. Maybe I had made him feel a little better about his thankless duties.

As I met the butler and the cute little servant girl, I tried the same approaches with them (not so much with the girl, because I'm sure that someone isn't going to speak with their mouth taped shut), and both times I was shot down wordlessly. Literally. It didn't hurt at all. I, as a man who was once also a father, had experienced the worst kind of pain. Nothing hurt anymore. At least... that's what I told myself. Of course it wounded me a little bit, but I forgot all about it when I spotted Jetta and practically flew across the ballroom to her. I greeted her, gave her a tight hug, told her how business had been going at Viva Sushi! — which has the seriously best Spanish and Japanese food in the whole country, at least — and then was distracted by something across the room. On my journey to discover what thing dare taunt me in my weakened state, I was halted halfway to listen to the host's speech. I did more fidgeting than actually listening, and I know it's a bad habit of mine, but I got the gist of it. No flower picking, don't leave the ballroom without an escort, et cetera or something. And as soon as he disappeared, I was off again on my hunt for the distracting object. Of course, though, in my excitement, I was once again distracted by the other servant who carried a tray of champagne past me; I almost collided with him, but was able to stop myself. At this point, I actually decided to try and take in my surroundings so as not to lose myself in the maze of people.

I did recognize this exact spot. It was where I first met Jetta and then ran off. So... I'd pretty much just gone in a big circle. That didn't bother me, at all compared to the absence of my sister.

Of course she wasn't there. I had a pretty good idea of where she had disappeared off to, and I wasn't happy about it either. I hate smoking, I really do, and I especially hate Jetta's weed. It's illegal for a reason, and I don't appreciate her breaking the law just for a little fun that's going to — in so many words — melt her brain before she turns thirty, and I was certain that she would need it after that. Of course, if it was part of her path of life to end up a dope-smoking vegetable living off Dad and Emily when she could no longer support herself... then that's how it had to be. Alternately, she could be ratted out and maybe she'd end up in jail or rehab... or both. It would be for the best, so I can't really say that I'm too upset about it. Anyway, she had promised that she wouldn't bring any joints with her — this was a classy environment, after all — so I probably shouldn't have been worrying about it as much as I was. I shook it off; when I saw her next I'd make sure to smell her breath, just to make sure. I have no quaffs about embarrassing her in front of a ballroom full of people, even if they can't see our faces, if it means that I might get a positive outcome from it. That's just what little brothers are for, right?

Of course, I wouldn't say I'm really a little brother, considering that both my twin, Quinton, and I are taller than her. Younger brother is more like it. Second youngest of four, unless you want to count Emily's kids, and then I'm third oldest of six. The only one of six who's most likely to never give my father grandchildren... not after Coralie, anyway. Of course not.... It's the whole reason I divorced Melody after so long pretending that I was attracted to her. It's the whole reason I'm not allowed to live at home, and why Dad doesn't want to talk to me. As much as I hate her, Emily calls me every now and again to see how I'm doing and ask me if I want to come home. Of course I don't, not while she's there, and not while Dad's going to glare at me every time I walk into the room. He should give it up, though, really. He has two other sons, and a step-son. He has a daughter and a step-daughter. I don't understand why he can't just give up and let me go. One of life's mysteries; I suppose I'm probably not supposed to know. It bothers me, but if that's the case, then there's no reason to pursue an answer, is there?

Speaking of pursuit, I finally spotted Jetta across the room and immediately made my way over before I lost sight of her. Sipping Sex on the Beach, trying so hard to look classy.... I sighed and shook my head, stepping up behind her and taking her shoulder. "Jetta." Sincerely, I hoped I'd scare her. It was one of those thoughtless things that people do.... I don't claim to be perfect, and I don't claim to think before I do most things that I do. Dad used to call me his 'Dumb One', just because of this, and Quinton would say that he was happy I received all the dumb genes, because that made him a genius. Sure... if he wanted to see it that way... sure. Secretly, my grades were always just a hair better than his, which he paid me not to tell anyone but I don't care anymore. Quinton is made of nothing but pride and business-like stand-offish-ness. It's not a word, I know. I mean, I could've just said that he's kind of a dick, but that lacks all luster that I could've possibly put into it, and where's the fun in that?

"Jet, were you smoking?" She smelled of vanilla, and I could guess easily that she might have reapplied her perfume. I know her better than she probably thinks I do. "I want to smell your breath." I didn't even care that she was in the middle of a conversation with the tallest man I had ever seen, and that upon closer inspection, probably also one of the most well-bred and beautiful men I had ever seen as well. It was in the way he carried himself, and honestly, it was a little intimidating.

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The glorious vibrations of music echoed in Jetta’s hears, tempting her so very much to sway to it, move in some way, anyway. It was a deep compulsion, starting in her ears and ending in her toes. The pulse through her body that thumped in tune with the music itched and bit at her for movement. Each note was a fragment of a movement in a dance that when put together, created true art. To Jetta, it was art that moved people with more than just their ears or more than just their eyes. It took on both senses.

Then, if one actually did the dancing, one could become the art. Dance provoked every sense then, the touch of the body, the taste of sweat permeating the air in a dance studio and the smell of so many things. The smell of strong perfume and cologne each dancer wore in order to cover up the smell of sweat, alcohol or as in Jetta’s case, weed. In her opinion, dancing was the truest form of art.

The enchanting music of the deaf band was now beginning to truly cast its spell on her. Her art was calling to her. When she had approached the silver haired man, he appeared so lost in his thoughts. He seemed consumed by what appeared to be deep thinking. When he noticed her however, his appraisal began.

Jetta recognized it immediately. He did not look at her like the hungry man looks at a woman, his intended meal. Nor did he look at her like the jealous wall flower, or even truly a cautious stranger. He had an odd way of appraisal, precise and knowing. It was eerily similar to the police or investigators. With all the different experiences she had in her life, she knew how to pick out a person from law enforcement. His giveaway was the way he appraised her, she otherwise wouldn’t have known. Those from the law and in the department of investigation, they always tried to “figure you out” and they often thought they did. Normal people appraise to, but they do it in a very different way, more shallow and unintended.

The silver haired man seemed to tilt his head in thought after Jetta had asked her question. "It is felt, not heard. The instruments are hollow; sound waves produce vibration... after long enough, this can replace the sound." He said as he watched the band. He spoke more so like someone of intelligence. Perhaps he was a detective? He was someone of a very different end of the rope than herself, it was quite obvious. But, he didn’t have to know that.

The man seemed to smile, as if he didn’t know quite how or he simply didn’t do it often. Then added "But surely you would know that?" in a way that did not seem like he meant to be condescending, though the words were definitely so. He then added "I apologize. Sometimes, I am told, I say things I should not." As to show Jetta he had not meant to be rude. He was terribly socially awkward, it was written in bold letter across his face. For some reason though, it worked for him. Maybe it was even cute, in a bashful, sweet sort of way? Only talking to him more would tell if she was right about that.

The man then stood up straight, leaving his spot on the wall to reveal his true height. He towered above Jetta, casting a slight shadow to fall over her face as he stood in front of the lighting that came from the walls of the room. Jetta then added an additional goofily charming characteristic to the list. He then added a slight bow before introducing himself "Ian Schaffer, fraulein. Er- miss, that is. A pleasure."

Jetta smiled with amusement at Ian as she subconsciously flattened out a light wrinkle on her elaborate dress. He was defiantly someone who belonged here. Jetta quickly toyed with what she should do in her mind. Introduce herself as Jetta, or maybe assume a new identity. She could be Charmaine, the heiress who spent her days reading things and practicing fancy floral arrangement. She very well could do that, it would be fun. Playing the role would be an amusing new challenge. How long would it take her to get caught? She would have none of the extra baggage Jetta had. But something about this man provoked her to do otherwise.

“Oh, don’t worry about it. I say things I shouldn’t all the time” Jetta said with a laugh and a smile. When one is often high or drunk, one very often says things they should not. “It’s nice to meet ya Ian Schaffer, Fraulein” Jetta said as she playfully did a small curtsy in response to his little bow.

“Yep, it’s Miss. I’m Jetta Constantine.” Jetta said not sure if he was asking if she was a Miss or a Misses. Without Jetta noticing, her body had disobeyed her and started to sway a bit to the music, itching to move. Jetta finished her drink and before she even thought to summon the help, her empty drink was already gone. “So tell me about yourself Ian. What do you do for a living?” Jetta asked, genuinely interested in learning more about him. Part of her also wanted to know if she was right about the law enforcement thing. A hint of caution escaped when she asked about his profession. What was his take on hippie, dancer, druggie, groupies? Likely not a good one.

Just as Jetta had finished her sentence, a hand grabbed her shoulder. She jumped up in fright, much because of all the guilt she was feeling. She felt guilt over portraying herself as a Jetta of high class to the nice, smart Ian and guilt over smoking when she promised her brother she wouldn’t. He had been through so much recently; it wasn’t even fair that she was putting more stress on her beloved brother. Then again, she defiantly had her own problems too. Her addiction won over anyone in her life.

"Jet, were you smoking?" said the person from behind her. As soon as she heard his voice she knew it was Viv. Jetta spun herself around, trying to shove out a smile. "I want to smell your breath" he added, piling on the embarrassment.

For a moment a bit of anger budded through and Jetta gave Viv a “I am going to kill you… later” look until she looked into his eyes. She couldn’t keep up anger when she saw her brother’s eyes. They used to be so full of life, happy and almost bouncy with delight. Since his daughter died, his eyes were full of anguish, bland yet full of pain. Jetta couldn’t stand looking at him now a days, he just wasn’t himself. That truely gave her pain, more than anything. Anything other than thinking of her past and what she had done with her life. How she did things like this.

“Erhum… Hey Viv” Jetta chocked out nervously. His presence was like getting caught by a parent who you actually cared about; A new experience for Jetta. She knew she was busted, Viv knew her way too well. “Ummm, Heh, uh yeah.. Ian! Meet my younger brother Viviannah. He is a sushi chief who is allergic to fish. Aint that just interesting? Viv this is Ian, I’m sure he’s real interesting too. Why don’t you tell us about yourself Ian?” Jetta said very quickly, completely ignoring Viviannah’s question and demand. Hopefully they would just get wrapped up in conversation. Oh a distraction, like a chandler falling off the celling would be lovely. She spoke very quickly now that she was nervous, saying absolutely whatever popped into her head.

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His linguistic slip had been noticed, but apparently misinterpreted. Ian was hardly surprised. Fraulein was a rather archaic term by today's standards anyway, and he certainly did not expect anyone here to know German. From the meld of voices, he guessed that to the contrary the majority were Americans, with some other nationalities thrown in here or there. He'd heard someone British and someone Russian at least.

It was not the only misinterpretation that had already wormed its way into their conversation either. When he'd asked if she shouldn't know about vibration replacing music, he had not been attempting to insult her intelligence but rather remark upon the fact that then as now she seemed disposed to feel rather than hear music herself. He was unsure if she noticed it, but she was moving with it at this very moment, though not enough that it constituted actual dancing. While an ordinary person might feel the need to correct these unfortunate misses, Ian did not. Rather, they were such a fixture of any conversation he tried to have with anyone that he was entirely resigned to them.

She asked after his profession, and he did not miss the cautionwarinessdistance that this produced. Perhaps she had an idea and was not happy with it? It never struck him to be anything less than perfectly honest, but he did wonder what reason anyone would have to fear a criminal profiler of all things. Well, unless one was a criminal of course. Though he had identified the fact that she had been smoking cannabis at some point recently, he was hardly going to arrest anyone for that. Certainly, it was not something that Ian himself would ever do, but... well, he'd tried to leave his work at the door, to only partial success if the fact that he was standing in a corner observing everything was anything to go by.

Before he could answer, though, he noted someone making a beeline straight for them, and his eyes shifted in that direction instead. He would be the first to admit that he was easily distracted; but then when each new thought or idea could prove to be something of utmost importance, being able to pick it up and follow it through almost instantly was something of a requirement. It was not as though a person could only think one thing at a time, after all. The newcomer seemed to be quite well-acquainted with Jetta, though this was explained in quick-enough order. Ian blinked slowly; he would not have picked Jetta as the sort to lose her composure in the presence of a family member, though he could guess well enough what the actual issue was.

Ian was not really sure he should interfere, but she was clearly begging for him to do, well, something. He supposed he might be able to oblige, but he now found himself in something of a predicament. The man she introduced as her brother Viviannah was of a sort that Ian had only too much experience with: the kind who had lost the thing in their lives that they had loved the most. What made it worse was that he was clearly also of the brave-faced sort and would not wear it openly if he could avoid doing so. Ian needed no unconventional thinking to arrive at this conclusion- he had seen it so many times on the relatives of victims that frankly it was a side of humanity that he was too familiar with.

That familiarity never made it easier to deal with. He was not the kind of person who ever knew the right thing to say, nor would it be welcome from a complete stranger in a situation like this. But he knew, and acting like he didn't was bound to be even harder. With no other recourse, he slipped into the sort of persona he'd been raised with: cultured European gentleman. Offering a half-smile, he stuck out his hand. "Nice to meet you, Mr. Constantine. As Miss Jetta said, my name is Ian Schaeffer. I work for the International Police as a criminal profiler, I suppose you could say."

He paused for a moment, then regarded them both steadily. "I wouldn't want to interrupt, so please, if there are matters you would rather discuss elsewhere, I will certainly excuse myself..." he left the offer dangling in the air, for though he knew that this was probably the last thing Jetta wanted, courtesy demanded that he make the offer at the very least. Or he thought it did. Sometimes he wasn't sure he remembered.




Mischa was lost enough in the play of motion over the dance floor that it did not occur to her that she might have something of a quandary until he spoke. She knew she would be expected to respond, of course, and in her own way she did. The corners of her lips tilted up in a way that was all mystery and intrigue, and she tilted her head slightly to one side. Still, she knew he deserved more of an explanation than this, and was in the midst of trying to figure out how to convey what she wanted when the song ended, the two of them coming to a perfect stop on the edge of the floor.

As soon as the idea had bloomed in her mind, the flaxen-haired child was there, his server's tray this time not containing any form of refreshment, but rather the answer to her troubles. She smiled brilliantly her thanks and took up both the index-sized cards and the pen, scrawling over their surfaces quickly, but not with undue haste. Mischa felt a bit guilty for perhaps confusing her partner, but she was not one to hurry so much that she wasted effort. All things in life should be taken at the pace they warrant, and no faster.

Turning back to her unconventionally-dressed but undeniably dashing acquaintance, she held up the small stack of cards, now adorned with black lines in a loopy, elegant script. The first one read simply: I cannot speak. She gave a small, somewhat melancholy twist of the lips at this, then flipped to the next one.

But If I could, she flipped again,

I would be happy to tell you that my name is Mischa (mee-shah),

I'm a professional ballroom dancer,

And it's very nice to make your acquaintance.
The last one, which had been written as an afterthought, actually caused her to redden slightly, though her complexion made it difficult to tell.

Do you tango? If so, might I ask for some of your time later? They seemed to be on classical music at the moment, but she had little doubt somehow that this would be mixed up a bit by the end of the evening. Though she loved all dances, Mischa was particularly fond of the more fast-paced or higher-difficulty ones, especially if they had that hint of Latin spice. Call it a weakness of sorts, but something that was all sweetness wasn't really her preference. Such a tendency had gotten her into some serious trouble before, but she'd resolved not to let that change a thing about her.

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He knew he was getting old when his bones began to ache before he’d even begun to dance the night away. Anymore, he felt like nothing but taught skin over dull, aching bones. Wasn’t this sort of thing reserved for the later years of life? His fifties perhaps, or even his sixties. True, he was very nearly there, but, at the same time, he wasn’t even close. Not now, when he still felt like he was in the prime of his… whatever this was called; this thing that others called a life when his seemed like anything but, most days. Except for those glorious moments--few and far between--when he was filled with adrenaline and excitement; filled with life. But, moments like those only seemed to come when he was doing the one thing he loved. It was the long stretches of time in between--those moments, when he was simply going through the motions, transitioning from moment to moment with all the pretense of living but none of its execution--that really made him feel old. At times like these, he had all the enthusiasm of a zombie with no prey to hunger after.

Yet, he had the strangest feeling that tonight was going to be different.

The ache in his bones was nothing that several more martinis couldn’t fix. He finished the one in his hand, taking time to twirl the speared olive in between two fingers before clenching it in his teeth and pulling it off the pick. True to form, a server appeared with a replacement drink ready on her tray. She took the empty glass and placed the fresh vodka martini in Van’s waiting hand before flitting away so quickly, so softly, that it seemed as if she were never there to begin with. As good as the service was, he couldn’t help but be alarmed, however slight the feeling was. That disquiet at the back of his mind came momentarily to the fore. No service was this good, unless the servers were crouched and hidden, watching their guest’s every movement in order to anticipate when they might be needed. That was highly improbable. No, this was something else. Van chose not to give it much thought, however, and he turned his attention back to his newly formed acquaintance. It was probably for the better. If one dwelt on such things for too long, one might not like the conclusions they came to.

The man’s handshake was an intriguing contradiction. It was gentle, and yet unyielding; quiet but firm. Van had always held the belief that a man’s handshake said a lot about him. “There is nothing more telling of a man’s character than the way he shakes your hand,” he could still hear his father saying, back when he was still interested in teaching his son the ways of the world; back before he’d realized just how much of a disappointment Van would be to him. Just what LeBlanc’s handshake said about the man’s character, Van wasn’t sure, but he could at least tell that this new acquaintance would keep him guessing. Predictable people were entirely too boring for Van’s tastes, and he would never have wasted this much time on one. It was interesting people like LeBlanc whose friendship he pursued, if he ever did.

“So, what brought you here--fancy, curiosity, or that incredibly personal letter?” What could Van say to that? To tell the truth--to say that he was here looking for his next conquest; the next, incredibly rich, and even more naïve woman whom he could con out of her money--would mean giving away more of his character than he was comfortable with. It was a despicable side of himself which he’d learned to whole-heartedly embrace, if, indeed there were anything other than the despicable to make up a different side of his character. He couldn’t tell anymore, truth be told, he’d been doing this for so long. But, this side of himself which he’d embraced was not likely to be embraced by others, and it wasn’t something that he liked to spread around idly. “Hmm… all of the above, I guess,” he answered, and it wasn’t quit a lie. His amused grin never left his face.

“Must say, I’ve never been to a masquerade before,” he continued. This was not Van’s first. Not to say that he’s been to an outrageous number of them, but he’d seen his share. It seemed a popular way to flaunt one’s wealth in a showy display of the supposed “finer things of life.” Needless to say, it was one of the go-to themes for the parties of the rich and famous with which Van was associated. He’d always found such deliberate and calculated exhibitions rather vulgar. Van liked money; he lusted after it, but he’d never been too concerned with the fancy things it could by, nor had he found it tasteful to flaunt how much of it one had in others faces. What sick pleasure people got out of it, Van had never understood. He decided not to comment on the matter, however, and instead, he chuckled amusedly at the way LeBlanc flopped down in the seat next to him so unceremoniously.

“We should make a wager; a parlay between new acquaintances. Let’s see who can manage a dance, first. Awful habit, I know,” he added, it seemed, as an afterthought. “What’s that? Dancing with women? Or betting on them? Or betting about dancing with them?” he responded jokingly, not bothering to mention that if betting was considered an “awful habit,” then the last 30 or more years of his life had been a long series of awful habits. As true as that might actually be, he wouldn’t admit it to himself. He could not hide the twinkle of delight which lit his eyes at LeBlanc’s proposition. Who would have thought that all it took for him to find a kindred spirit was a masquerade ball? “I’ll take that bet,” he responded with a wide grin. If it were a serious wager, he never would have accepted without first discussing the stakes. “What are we wagering, here? Bragging rights? I’m in. In fact, if I had a hat I’d- Ah! Will you permit me?” he asked, reaching for the hat which sat rakishly on LeBlanc’s head. He didn’t wait for an answer, he plucked the hat off and set it on his own head. “I tip my hat to you, Sir,” he joked, tipping the hat in an exaggerated way and laughing. When he was finished, he removed it, twirling it on his finger a few times before depositing it back on it’s rightful owner.

“You’ve got yourself a bet, LeBlanc. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a prior engagement with one of these gorgeous young ladies. They just don’t know it yet,” he winked. He finished his second martini in a flourish, and didn’t even bother to blink as it was immediately taken out of his hand. Van rose, feeling the ache in his bones bull to nothing more than a simmer. Tonight, he felt young, and he wandered off in search of a pretty young thing with which to share the feeling.

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Eyes, empty like glass. It's what one of my bosses, Mitsuki had said to me just after Coralie's death and then told me to go see her husband in his office. I complied, only to be told that I was being given some time off to 'deal with my grief' and that they could do without me for a little while. However long I wanted. It would be okay. Whenever I decided to return they'd accept me with open arms. I left directly after this, and returned the next day to work the dinner shift. Everyone stared a little bit, but no one said anything about what had happened. It wasn't like my divorce; at least then they'd told me that Melody was a bitch anyway, and that I deserved better, but that was only because they didn't understand. I always replied simply that she was actually a great person, it was just that I had discovered something about myself that meant we couldn't be together anymore. As to what that was, I was never actually questioned, so I didn't say anything. Don't ask, don't tell. That was how it had to be, working with three other men nightly. I didn't want to ruin the friendship between us, even if it was because I was trying to assure them that I wasn't attracted to them. Really, I wasn't. I never had been. Anyway, just after the divorce I started seeing my best friend Emil, and ended up breaking up with him a few weeks later. Nothing major... we both thought it was a little awkward, especially when we were going to hang out with our other friends and they kept making sick remarks about it. We just couldn't handle it. After that, I saw a few other guys, but Melody kept scaring them away, bringing Coralie over at the most inoppertune moments or calling at times when she knew I took my showers incase I had someone over. I don't like saying bad things about people... there's some good in everyone.... But Melody was going out of her way to make sure that I could have no one but her. She really was, for lack of a better word, a bitch; and it tastes rotton on my tongue to say it, but it's true.

I've never liked the sound of swearing much.... It sounds so juvenile, really.... But sometimes there are words that can't be replaced quite right by anything else. It really is regretful.

Jetta tried so hard to distract my attention from her, shove it onto her acquaintence, Ian Schaeffer instead. At first I wasn't going to let myself buy into it, but he offered his hand, and I had to take it. I felt stupid, with nothing to say in return to his introduction. Damn Jetta had already introduced me and given my profession (if one could really call it that) and topped it off with the fact that I'm allergic to fish. I love my sister to death. I'm closer to her than I am to my own twin, and it's probably the only reason I'd let her get away with it. Anyway, it was just a minor slip-up on her behalf, and it wasn't a big deal anyway. I didn't expect her to know anything about this kind of social gathering at all; Hell, neither did I. I just felt that it was fate that we both had this letter in our mail and that we both had to go. There was this magnetic force surrounding the whole atmosphere of thought and I felt that it wouldn't allow me to deny, even if I wanted to.

With Jetta's introduction of me, I was struggling for something to say to him in return. I was thankful once again for the mask. My cheeks were starting to flare up from embarrassment. I think. Maybe it was just the way Ian presented himself.... People didn't come like this anymore, and it was rather refreshing. Rather attractive.... No! Refreshing. It was just refreshing. Finally, I decided what I could say. "It's nice to meet you Ian. A criminal profiler, huh? Funny that Jetta would pick out the only law enforcement in the whole room." And then I laughed, sort of half-heartedly. I didn't think it was very funny. I didn't think Jetta would either. Ian... whether he thought it was funny or not was up to him, and for Jetta's sake more than my own I hoped he did. I had to take a deep breath, though, and remember that he probably wasn't here looking for people to arrest. Jetta would be safe unless she tried to kill someone, but I highly doubted that she would. We were all off duty here. I might've been a sushi chef, but it didn't mean that I was going to head directly for the kitchen to start making up sushi platters for everyone. So, for that, I reached up, mostly absent-mindedly, and began to twirl the tassels of my mask around one of my fingers. "That was probably out of line. Whatever Jet does with her life she will, even if I don't like it. It's not my decision."

I felt like I was making it worse. I felt like I was getting in the way, coming between Jetta and her (probably nonexistant; sorry!) chance with Ian. I just couldn't help that it was too mismatched. It was awkward and strange... and... and maybe it was a good idea. Jet and a Criminal Profiler. This spark lit up in me, and I decided that Ian might be the one to straighten her out. So... I smiled politely and turned to my older sister, took both her hands for a moment as I contimplated hugging her, then just nodded. "Actually, I'll leave you two alone. Have fun Jet. Responsibly, if you can help it.... I'll be... over there if you need me." I pointed over toward a row of empty chairs lining the walls and then turned to Ian. "It was nice meeting you. Um... take care of her." I didn't offer my hand or bow like some sort of well-disciplined gentleman. I just left them alone, smiling a little bit.

To her credit, Jet had found him first. I'd let her take the first swing, and yes, that means that within the first five minutes of having met him, I had already been taken over by that European charm that he seemed to leak out of every seem of his tux. I could wait. I wasn't much of a dancer anyway, so there was no need to go hunting for a good-looking guy that I might have a chance with. I'd simply flag down that one little servant that I'd nearly tripped on and take a champagne off his tray. I sipped it slowly, admiring the deaf string quartet from my seat by the wall, wishing I could've learned to play the violin in highschool instead of the flute, but unfortuanately, that wasn't one of the choices in my music class, and I was stuck with the flute. Quinton played the flute as well... and he played it better than I did. I was always the lame twin. Lame, but high-spirited, and I didn't care what anyone thought about me. Still... it didn't stop people from calling me 'The Lame Twin' behind my back. Quinton was always smart and athletic and muscial and artistic. Me...? What did I have going for me other than dating the Head Cheerleader, Melody Jacobi, on and off four my entire high school career, along with several of the better-looking girls in between rough patches with Melody? Other than that... I stirred up quite a fuss when I told my friends that I was marrying Melody for our child's future. We were seventeen; and the only reason that it even happened was because she had threatened to break up with me. So, I took a breath and I just.... I did alot of stupid things in high school. I regret none of them. But the worst of them were all because I was being pressured, and something inside me told me that it'd all be okay in the end. Still... it made me out to be a bit of a pushover.

I mean, honestly... I didn't even like champagne.

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#, as written by Odyne
Sebastian Von Nacht

Maybe I should drink something to calm my nerves? Sebastian thought miserably. The party was in full swing now and he wished against wishes that he had been at home, in his room, working on a project for work. He yearned for his comfort zone so strongly he was nearly moved to tears over his stupidity of showing up to such a grandiose occasion. Before he could raise his shaking hand toward the silent servants for something strong, a tiny sprite of a girl was shimmying towards him. It was an odd sort of dance for a waltz to such beautiful, classy music...but he had no time to think before she grabbed him around the waist possessively and began to dance against him in an earnest, lascivious nature.

A massive lump rose in Sebastian's throat and he emitted a choked little squeak of protest. The hair on the back of his neck stood on end and he gawked at her, dumbfounded as fear scribbled up and down his spine as she ground against him. He could resist the urge to flee no longer, and he flailed his arms desperately to pry himself free of the girl. Pushing away from her violently, he ran toward the first door he could see and slammed it behind him, closing his eyes and falling to the floor, relief washing over him. Panting and wiping sweat from his brow, he observed the room.

There were deep, vitreous porcelain sinks that were placed on a long, pearl-colored marble slab. Individual oval-shaped mirrors were separated by wall sconces, the candles in them glowing amber and smelling faintly of lilacs. The stalls themselves were made from solid chestnut wood, each of the toilets inside gleaming. It was elaborately decorated, with columns draped in soft beige curtains and a chandelier. The tiles were the color of soft coral and flowers adorned the wallpaper. His heart dropped into his stomach as he came to a sinking realizing that he was in the women's restroom. What else is new? he chuckled nervously. Before he could rise to leave the room before anyone else sees his obvious blunder, he stopped himself cold.

There was someone else in here, standing at the sink primping herself in the mirror. Before he could apologize, he looked beyond the feathers and mask at her eyes. He took in her lips, her perfect little nose, the milky complexion. He looked her up and down, abandoning all jumpiness and settling on feelings from so long ago. Was it too long ago? Only one person had ever eased all of his woes and fears like this...

"Skye?"
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Lila Ann Hirsch

The dance was forcefully as Lila was pushed away by the frantic man. "Wait....hey, WAIT!" Lila tried in vain to grapple the nervous man, but he yanked his arm from her solid grip and disappeared into the lady's room. She heard something small drop to the floor and Lila bent to discover the tiny silver bauble. It was a cufflink, studded with a single onyx stone. Without giving it another thought, she stuffed it into the front of her corset and decided that she would not allow such insolent disrespect to ruin her good time. Roaming back into the crowd, she washed her hands of the situation and began scoping out her next victim.

It didn't take but a moment. She laid her eyes on a man in white, and everything went silent for Lila while she took in the devilishly debonaire man. His figure was strong and masculine, blonde hair was slick and shining, his suit was perfectly pressed and his eyes...oh, those eyes. They were deep and piercing, infiltrating through her sternum and straight to her heart. There was something about him that was so...so familiar somehow. She felt like she was walking under water as she approached him, never once taking her eyes off of him in her dreamlike haze. When he finally espied her from her position, she tipped her head up to fully admire his face. Flashing her most brilliant smile, she took both of his rough, calloused hands in hers and lead him further from the mire of people and into a quiet spot on the dance floor.

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Surgeons could fix any aches, pains, or even broken bones. They could set everything straight with gratified, steady hands and carefully arranged words. Patients saw him as God or they saw him as a monster. But the fact is, Felipe's only human. He might've even proposed to fix his new acquaintances aching back if he'd asked, though he was doubtful that it'd lead to any alluring chambers with lavish bedrooms—from his vantage, this debonaire gentleman was anything but gay. No doubt he was interested in laced-bodices, tapered fingers, sweepingly long hair and lavender perfumes clinging to tight-fitting dresses. A pair of ten-inch-fuck-me shoes, and the playing field would've been set. Sloshing what little there was left of his drink around in methodical circles, slowly, before balancing it against his knee, Felipe's bemused eyes surveyed the large ballroom. The ornately decorated ceiling looming high above them, speckled with relentlessly burning candles and diamond embossed chandeliers. It hammered the inhabitants with shabby thrills. Everything felt surreal. It diminished the value of life outside of its' halls, and pulled you into something you couldn't fully understand. Right now, Felipe was observing the flighty servants sweeping across the dance floor, graceful footsteps barely kissing the grounds they stepped on and still treading with as much finesse only the most practised danseuse could produce. They plucked empty drinks from errant fingers, replacing them quickly, and disappeared amidst the crowd. Impeccable service. Impossible service. Impressed goosebumps threaded across his forearms. He found it difficult to feel at ease in such an environment.

Unbeknownst to Felipe's newfound companion, he'd practised his handshake several times with his friends. Several times, male acquaintances had commented on how weak his handshakes were—so uncouth, so insubstantially tender. A handshake fit for women, whom preferred embraces. He wanted to become a stronger version of Sansa; one that wouldn't be immediately recognized for who he was. Someone who could stand proudly, without being underestimated. So, his handshakes were gentile, and unyielding; contending a well-founded strength. His father hadn't been there to teach Sansa the importance of a handshake. There were no fatherly words whispering into his ear as he shook hands with Van, nodding his head with that subtle twinkle in his eyes. Experience taught him that a man who looked him straight in the eye, particularly if he added a firm handshake, was hiding something. It tells you a lot straight at the beginning. Felipe's sunny eyes caught Van's sky-blues, and held them there for a moment, regarding him with enthusiastic curiosity. Perhaps, he'd just made a valuable friend. You there, yes, you there. There's something I want you to know, something I think you need to hear. You're beautiful. Patients might've seen surgeons as heartless cogs turning with surgical machines, but they had the largest hearts when it came to saving humanity. They saw beauty whereas others saw crooked men and women; and whether or not they scrambled for intensive patients, or teetered on the edges of their seats for great opportunities, it didn't matter. Surgeons saved lives, and they saw the good in people.

His mouth simpered into a mooning grin, reflecting his inner thoughts. Just because Felipe preferred to see the good in others, didn't mean that he was completely guileless. He understood that people wanted shallow things, and strove for lesser things—money, intimacy, and power. As debonaire as Van seemed, he could tell that he was opportunistic. A shark, in a sense. Constantly seeking greater swimming grounds, and testing the waters for the juiciest contingency, seeking good fortune through dubious means. Felipe knew all that from the moment he laid eyes on him, and still, his interest was piqued. Everyone had their skeletons, and he was willing to sate his curiosity without enquiries. It's nice pretending to be a nice gentleman, delightfully charming others with an alter ego you've created—just to hide that despicable self you'd rather not reveal, if only for the night. His index finger skirted around the rim of his glass, creating a hollow hum. Soon enough, his burden was lifted from his tingling fingers and he shook his head when the fashionable twin offered him another drink. With a mischievous smile, he bowed low and retreated back towards the mingling dancers, offering his infallible services.

“Likewise,” Felipe whispered, pressing his cheek into his upturned palm. His honey eyes surveyed the dance floor, searching for a suitable partner. Sansa was an amazing dancer, she'd taken lessons as a little girl when she was first adopted by her oriental foster mother. It was mandatory, though her mother believed that it'd be fun for the both of them. Character building and such. Honestly, it'd proven to be a valuable asset. Women loved handsome men who could dance—tango, foxtrot, quickstep, salsa, those were the passionate steps that left them breathless. This masquerade was filled with opportunities when it came to the art of dancing; you couldn't just swoop in, grab a woman's hand and salsa in a sweaty, trashy club. It was filled with cheap grinding, and swaying hips; hands tucked tight against bare stomachs, and heaving breaths against sweet-smelling necks. It wasn't sensual at all. Felipe's hand dropped from his face, and hung off the arm of his chair. He regarded Van with a wry smile, his stomach fluttering with the chance of a good, fair gamble. Well, not entirely fair. Fair games were shots in the dark, and he'd rather play to win.

“Betting on them; dancing with them, whichever,” Felipe responded offhandedly, gesturing with gracefully tapered fingers. He drummed them on the chairs arm, matching the musician's tune. His awful habit stemmed from the adrenaline rush he got whenever he won bets, whenever he pulled the slot machines' steel-cold arm and heard the clambering jingles of coins colliding together. You could bet on anything, and come out a few dollars richer. It wasn't the money that attracted him. It was the thrill; the kind that left men and women alike sitting on curbs, with only lint loitering in the depths of their pockets. Fortunately, he had a good circle of friends who often watched him—making sure that he didn't go overboard, because that's what he often did. He caught the familiar twinkle in Van's eyes, and smiled. It was likely that they shared the same awful habits. “Bragging rights,” He repeated, moving the words around in his mouth like it was something sweet. And then, he fished something out of his breast pocket and wagged two fifty dollar bills in front of him. With clear amusement, Felipe feigned smelling the bills and laughed against the weathered paper, slipping it back into his pocket. “A bet's not a bet unless something's wagered.” He laughed heartily when Van plucked the fedora hat from his head, setting it on his own before tipping it in the most theatrical manner he'd seen. It looked rather good on him, too. A handsome hat for a handsome man. When Felipe's chapeau was returned, he tipped it low over his golden eyes and flicked it back over his eyebrows with his knuckles.

“Surely, a catch.” Felipe smirked, watching as Van finished his Martini. Without another moment's notice, it'd left his hand and Van was rising from his seat, leaving him alone amongst the rows of velvet-clad chairs. He eyed his retreating form and clicked his tongue appreciatively, leaning forward with the rekindled enthusiasm of a gambler betting on horses. Suddenly, his eyes caught sight of a young man with a tumble of golden hair spilling down his back in the form of a ponytail. High cheekbones set on a heart-shaped face; and jagged, beautiful bone structures that looked strong, and feminine, and everything he sometimes felt; a beauty that made you weak at the knees. Felipe's falsely-coloured eyes narrowed to take in the man's sea-blue gaze, and suddenly he found himself moving across the marble flooring, plodding with the confidence of a man who had nothing to lose. Fortunately, his elevated gel heels offered a little height and he wouldn't be completely dwarfed by the elegantly dressed man. Without so much as an introduction, Felipe scooped up one of his hands in his own and pulled him onto the dance floor, peering through his Persian mask.

Bullocks on the bet; women or men, it wasn't specified.

Dance with me.”

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Panic is the wrong word for it, at least for the first few moments. More like complete and utter confusion as I felt myself lifted off the chair that I had been sitting in without any warning, and by a man shorter than I was. The three words he had spoken could have been any three in the entire English language, and I wouldn't have cared because I was too busy being stunned to do anything but let him move me out into the middle of a crowded ball room floor. It didn't click in at first, not until I actually looked up from the uniquely-coloured eyes on the other side of the mask; captivating amber eyes, expressive, mischievous.... The masks made everyone look like they were hiding something, and I'm sure that I was no exception; but neither was this stranger. I couldn't exactly tell, but what I could piece together was a mildly plain face and a petit body, not that it mattered much because beauty is mostly always skin deep. It's not really beauty that matters anyway. The best hair dresser I've ever seen looked like some sort of troll/Pekinese/human crossbreed; she wasn't the best looking person, but she was talented, and she's the only one I'll trust to put scissors anywhere near my head. Anyway, it doesn't matter too much, because I couldn't see the rest of his face. By that token, he might actually have been rather sightly, just that the best part, that pulls the rest of the features together, was hidden under the mask. I was more concerned about dancing with someone I didn't know and embarrassing myself, so what was under the mask was of little consequence. I just had to hope to Hell that, with that forceful attitude of his, he planned on leading.

I had to make this perfectly clear from the start; but I couldn't say no. "I can't dance. I don't know what to do." Following was easy enough; I had seen how it was done in plenty of movies, but I've always felt that it's better to receive instruction in something you're not sure about rather than wing it and end up looking like a fool when you mess up. Looking like a fool... I'm a professional at that; but I do that on purpose to make people talk and laugh, not so that they think I'm an idiot. It looked like some of the others knew what they were doing; I was guessing (hoping) that someone so enthusiastic about dancing knew what he was doing. But seriously? Who takes dance lessons at all these days? I wasn't counting on him to have very much, if any, idea what he was doing. Maybe he just wanted me, and this was some fail attempt to impress me. Yeah. Then, when it failed, I could give him some encouragement, send him on his merry way, and go back to my chair if it remained unoccupied. Eventually I'd see something going on and feel the need to join in; I just wasn't ready yet. I had really only just begun to survey the crowd while keeping half an eye on Jet and Ian, and still every woman was a child with golden ringlets. It took me a little while to warm up to women, especially since the ones that weren't girls with golden ringlets were model-esque with voluptuous figures and thick dark blonde waves. If I didn't see Coralie, I saw Melody. If I didn't see Melody, I saw Coralie. Over the course of twenty minutes, things calmed down, the rush faded and women were just women after all. I had nothing to worry about; I knew this, and yet I couldn't help but feel that way whenever I got close to a woman, the exception being Jetta because Jetta could only be Jetta and never anyone else.

Whoever was under that mask... he wasn't Jetta. He could be anyone. He could be a Human Trafficker here to look for good merchandise. He could be a cowboy from a small ranch in the south with no other care in the world other than his livestock, his horses, and his crop. He could be a foreign diplomat, or a Laundromat owner, or a complete doormat for that matter. He was anyone and everyone right now, the epitome of mystery in my mind; not as mysterious as the host, mind you. No one was that freaky. But what do you do with someone like this? Give them your name? Act friendly and genuinely be interested in who they are? Or run for your life because they could be anyone? Usually, it was the second, but that's just because I'm naturally not afraid of being shanked in the middle of a ball room. That quality's been bred into the Constantine bloodline for hundreds of years, you know. No. Not really.... But have you ever seen that movie, Constantine? After that movie came out, all my friends started calling me by my last name and asked me if I could exercise some problem poltergeists from their houses. Unfortunately, that wasn't John Constantine's job, so they were totally barking up the wrong tree. Actually, that has nothing to do with me bleeding to death in the middle of the dance floor with no doctor around to save my life. Not that I was actually worried about being stabbed. Heh. Who would be? Not me, that's for sure. Not me at all.

I'm not afraid of knives. I use them every day, like a pro. I wondered if there was anyone on that floor who knew their way around sharp objects like I did. If minds counted, then Ian definitely had me beat; so I didn't count them. Simple.

I think the only time I'd ever been seriously injured by a sharp object was when I nearly cut the tip of my index finger off in my classes at a culinary arts school, which I attend during the day. I swear, it bled everywhere and the teacher nearly threw up. I had to go to the hospital with my hand wrapped up in a cloth, and I ended up waiting until nine at night to have my finger looked at. It was quite the day, I can tell you. Sort of. Not really. I slept through most of my wait. It was uneventful.

Anyway, after the initial stun wore off, and I had panicked a little over who I might be dancing with, I calmed down a little bit. Just a little. The champagne was warming my body, rushing over me like a wave of hot water and making it impossible for me to react with anything but calm. I knew there had to be a reason why people drank that crap. It still tasted funny on my tongue, and I knew that I couldn't get rid of it now. Aftertaste is an evil thing, isn't it? In attempt to forget about it, I swallowed hard, wincing, and cleared my mouth to make way for words. What better way to get to know the creep you could be dancing with than to introduce yourself so they can Google you when they get home? "I'm Viviannah Constantine. And you?"

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Mike had to admit, he was a little more than confused when the sandy haired waitress arrived with cards and a pen. He was even more than a little confused when his dancing partner began to write on them. She was a sight, really. Scribbling away gracefully on the cards as if it was all part of the plan. It was everyday for her. She’d been there, done that, seen the expression before. Mike wasn’t surprising her with his hand raising to scratch the back of his head, a universal sign of awkward tension for him. Really, he should have guessed it after the first unanswered question.

Wait. Not entirely unanswered. She had spoken to him. Her hips had moved a certain way, and her face had made a motion he knew he could understand. If not with words, than with his gut instinct. They had certainly been communicating, just not in the typical “let’s use words” kind of way. Mike was astounded at his quick discovery and felt proud of himself when the first card was flipped over.

She was mute. How fascinating. Mike had never met someone who couldn’t speak. In his line of work, if you couldn’t speak, you were already screwed. Talking was a way of life for him and those he dealt with. Stars, musicians, bankers, stock brokers, all the hoity-toity, rich folk of the city. They all talked, relentlessly. He only knew one person who barely communicated with words. Instead, she took the most amazing pictures anyone could dream of and that was how she portrayed her feelings. His sister had a knack for figuring out an argument by sending him a photograph. She never had to yell at him. Just take a picture and he knew she was angry with him, or forgave him.

In his living room, there was one 3x5 hanging just above a plant he’d managed to keep alive for a few years now. It was of a carousel, broken down, beaten up, graffitied. On the only horse that seemed stable, sat a little boy, dressed in a private school’s uniform, holding a bright red balloon. In the dinginess of the picture, his balloon was like a light of hope. You couldn’t help but smile because you just knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that that little boy was really enjoying himself. Ella had sent that to him after he’d had a fight with his father. One that he’d prompted and Dad had just shut down. That had pissed him off even more. But along comes Ella. With a photograph of what he knew was her way of saying, “You’re gonna be okay. In the end, you have yourself and your own happiness.”

Mischa didn’t use pictures. She danced. She moved and swayed and tapped and smiled and Mike knew what she was saying. At least, he hoped he knew. Sure, he’d known Ella long enough to decipher her strange way of expression, but he’d just met Mischa. A beautiful name for a foreign beauty. And no wonder she was so damned light on her feet. Mike would have said he was impressed, but he was no judge of professional dancers and so he could only be in awe of her abilities. He knew he still had more to learn. Hopefully from her (in the most innocent ways possible, mind you, though her fantastic figure was not, in anyway, slipping Mike’s mind).

He laughed a bit at her inquiry, more a chuckle than anything, and he nodded his head.

“I’m Michael, but most everyone calls me Mike.” He gripped her hand and kissed her knuckles, feeling devilishly old fashioned and then patted the top of her hand gently. She was soft everywhere. “The pleasure is all mine, Mischa, and I would be more than delighted to dance a tango with you.” He slowly let go of her hand, so not to appear overbearing, and his smile was wide.

“I’m in the mood for something sweet. Is there something I can get for you while I’m gone?”



Mariella had been sweetly interrupted from her reverie, but then he was gone. It had been nice for the entire thirty seconds she’d spoken with someone. Now she was left in front of the mountain of appetizers and desserts to eat away her loneliness. Not that she always ate when she was lonely, just that right now it seemed all she could do, and eating sweets was always nice. Popping a few more tarts in her mouth and forking a small piece of pie into her mouth, Mariella began making her way toward the balcony.

Something outside had been calling to her. Well, maybe not calling to her, but enticing her to go outside. No voices or music, just a pretty smell and the promise of beauty. Being inside was getting her nowhere and at least if she was outside she could wait patiently and comfortably for her brother.

Everyone was so pretty. Everything about this place was beautiful. All the dresses and make-up and masques decked with golden and paint. She thought of her own masque and sighed. It was a gorgeous piece, handmade by an old woman her brother had known. Why he knew her, Mariella would never really know, but she didn’t question it either. She never cared much who Mike was friends with, just that he stayed out of trouble, if not for her sake, than for his own.

Stepping out onto the stone deck that expanded the entire length of the ballroom, Mariella took in a deep breath of flowery perfumes and misty nighttime air. This Jonathon had quite the piece of land. It reminded her of home in the Midwest. Fireflies flickering up and down and side to side on the bushes and trees and dotting the grass as the landed, then lifted off again. Sitting down on a bench she leaned over the stone railing and watched them fondly, smiling at the memories they brought forth.

At least with this, Mariella could truthfully say she didn’t leave without anything.

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To Ian's surprise, the man introduced as Viviannah vanished as quickly as he had appeared, leaving the rather puzzled man alone with his sister. Jetta seemed to be distracted by something though; not in the way that Ian was often distracted, the rhapsodic twisting and undulation of thoughts that demanded attending to lest they be lost to the nether of errancy, but something else. He surmised the bass beneath his feet that she could not feel might have something to do with it, and all of a sudden, he felt like an obstacle. This was not an unheard-of thing for him, but it was rare that he should be so this soon, and on so many counts. His very nature as a time-carded watchman of society seemed to perturb her, but his physical presence also seemed to be some kind of inhibition on something else.

He felt he had overstayed his welcome, but he was not certain there was any polite way to extricate himself from the moment. Deciding that to be seen as overly brusque or rude was better than being thought of as oblivious or unable to take a hint, he bowed again and excused himself. All of this reminded him so much of the world he had grown up in, only now the people dancing and milling and socializing were for the most part just as out-of-place as he had felt himself then, and himself as faceless as he had always known he was. It was almost poetic, the language of a mask. It made literal something which had always been there not in physicality, but in the very core of his being.

To be only himself, always himself, was for Ian a ridiculous notion. There were precious few who would tolerate that, fewer still who would truly accept it, and none who would understand. He could not expect them to, not when he did not either. He'd read each and every one of the books, tried to put a name to what he was, how he felt, the things he perceived, and disturbingly the closest approximation was a schizophrenic with paranoid delusions. He might have come to accept this, had it fit completely, had the medication changed anything about him except to make him drowsy and sluggish. But it hadnotdidnotcouldnot, and so he was simply an anomaly in his own system.

The air suddenly seemed cloying, and he had to get out, out and away. He would have said far away, but it was not so. Something about this house kept him in orbit of it, an insignificant satellite pulled in by the inexorable tug of gravity, were gravity all nocturnes and sandalwood and doe-eyed children who looked at him with curiosity and fear. He crossed the room with some urgency, but he did not lose his studied composure until he was beyond the doors, and in the haze of his rush, alone. There was a railing in his way, but this was no matter; he simply leaped it with the aid of a hand. It was only a decorative one, and the drop from the level of the deck floor to the ground no more than three feet or so.

He had at no point run, and his outward composure clashed hard against the flutterings of half-remembered courtesies and voluminous skirts, gloved hands and a stern, handsome, proud face that would never lose marbled perfection for the flaw of a smile, at least not for him. For a few silent seconds, Ian simply stood there, gathering his thoughts back unto reasonable boundaries with every intake of fresh night air, and threw his head back to stare in solemn contemplation at what really was in the grand scheme of the universe a small, unimportant satellite, but so much bigger then he, than any of this.

It was only then that the observation he had made on his way out- that there was a person seated behind his current position on a bench- registered fully, and he turned his head to glance back slowly. "Your forgiveness if I startled you," he said quietly. "I... was in need of some air."




Mischa hadn't thought they made them like this anymore. Of course, she knew that there were still gentlemen in the world; her father and uncle would not allow her to forget it no matter the gamut of her own experience. She knew also that there were people who masqueraded (an ironic word choice, perhaps) as gentlemen, only to be something else entirely. She had also once cared deeply for someone who she had believed the opposite: a gentleman in the glamour of someone else, someone less so.

But there was something genuine to Mike that she hadn't seen often. He did not linger too long when brevity was called for, he did not forget the courtesies that would earn him nothing, and for this she could not help but be grateful. She was indeed happier than she had thought when he agreed to the tango, but she shook her head at the offer of something to eat. It would be rude of her to keep him for much longer, not when the night was still young and there were plenty of other interesting people to be met.

So she watched him go for a few seconds then turned her attention elsewhere. Such an emotionally healthy person should find the company of others like him, not those who took much-needed solace so desperately from the one thing that had kept them afloat. She was just thinking it might be a good time to relax and have a drink when one of the youthful attendants appeared with something shockingly blue in a martini glass, cheesy little umbrella included. If she could have chuckled, she would have, but she did not demean the young man by ruffling his hair or anything like that. She'd never had siblings, so she didn't much understand how to interact with people in such ways, and went for formality instead. A small smile and a nod, and the boy was on his way anyhow.

Mischa slipped into a chair and let her eyes wander the area. There were two men dancing over there, though apparently only one of them really knew how. Still, she smiled as she sipped at the tangy drink. Such things were frowned upon some places in the professional world, and the rules were always that partners had to be of opposite genders. It was a bit silly to her; if one could dance, one could dance, of what consequence was anything else? One younger male apparently accidentally ducked into the women's restroom, and she blinked at that. He'd left his own dance partner behind, which was rather unkind.

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Inches away from beautiful youth from all sides, Felipe was astounded that the blonde-haired beauty had allowed himself to be pulled from the sanction of comfortable chairs. Actually, it wasn't like he had much of a choice. It would've been foolish if he pulled a scene and refused – or perhaps, he'd been searching for a particular dancer partner. Some people just didn't like dancing, but naturally, he didn't care. This wasn't at all like the stuffy pubs Felipe was used to—well, the ones that Sansa was used to, anyway. Dancing in sleazy clubs was like drowning in a soup of sweat and artificial fog, on a booze-slick floor with bass like a pounding beast roaring in your chest. Not to mention the clammy hands grabbing all over; under your shirt, down your pants, across your slick neck. Wholly unwanted, and unwelcome. It was a hunting ground, or a meat market. This was something entirely different; it was poise, grace and delicatesse. A whole coven of swans exploding from a lake, with equally beautiful onlookers lingering in each others' amiable company. Or else, that's what Felipe thought. What did he expect from this dazzling stranger? Nothing. There would be no greedy fingers exploring inner thighs, stomachs and arms – there would be no hunger, and there would hardly even be words. Perhaps, anyway. Felipe wasn't much for silence; he was explosive, exciting, and outwardly flamboyant.

The masquerade held enough beauty to feed his soul; as sweet as milk and honey. Felipe's soft fingers held Viviannah's captive, as precise and steady as if he were holding a scalpel over a beating heart. Any terrible fantasy involving bed sheets disappeared when his gold-spun eyes met endless oceans, framed by the longest eyelashes he'd ever seen a man possessing. It almost made him flush, really. Felipe loved men and women alike, but he seemed only truly abashed with the latter gender spectrum. It churned his stomach whenever a woman approached him, trying desperately to gain the advantage in the game of vapid exuberance. A man that appeared to look like a woman, instead of a woman pretending to be a man—honestly, it was almost ironic. Instead of choking on his awkward discovery, Felipe's small smile curled genuinely on his pink lips and he turned his face upwards to inspect the bottom half of the strangers' face. Masquerade masks always held an enticing allure; it could draw you in, as well as make you feel leery. Such opposing thoughts often gave him pause. If it were Sansa, she'd of grabbed the mask from his face and torn it off, throwing off her own in its' stead. She didn't like surprises, and mystery was wasted on her; she was all balled fists of fury and corrosive aggression. Felipe wasn't like that at all. He was the fluid pianist staying his hands against ivory, pushing each key and listening to the resounding melodies that flowed from his fingertips. He was an artist, and she was a train wreck.

It might've been like Felipe read Viviannah's mind, because he swung into a staccato of steps and led them towards the center of the ballroom. In tranquil moves, Felipe's fingers curled lightly around his partners and he twirled him in a small circle, returning him to his chest with a wicked grin. There was no doubt that he was a good dancer. It was shown throughout his graceful steps, leading Viviannah as if there was nothing his partner could do to off-balance them. Whenever something particularly daunting or difficult was about to happen, he would simply squeeze his partners' hand and lead them through a series that nearly appeared simple. After another twirl, Felipe's hand rested strongly behind his partners' back. Despite his petite stature, he remained undaunted by the prospects of dancing with a taller, albeit more feminine, man. Or perhaps, they were equally feminine. With half of his face hidden beneath the Persian mask, it was hard to tell. Thumb, index, middle, ring and pinky - pressed warmly and strong into his back, as the expanse of his palm drew her closer to him. If he was worried, Felipe couldn't tell. His expression was one that he has seen whenever he encountered new worlds; guarded, cautious, sharp. Because even if this stranger wasn't thinking of the smoothness of the dancer, or the thrumming beats of cello's colliding into flocks of doves, or even the way the lights played stars against the ceiling; even if he wasn't thinking of the present beauty surrounding them, it didn't matter. Tonight, Felipe could be anything and everything, and when he felt he could be no one. That kind of freedom was hard to come by, and he wasn't going to let anything take that away from him.

The dance never seems to end and they join in at the outer fringes, where the push and pull of the throng is not so intense. They move together more fluidly than he expects, the occasional stumble greeted with a brief shared chuckle before they find their rhythm once more. Nonetheless, Felipe enjoyed loosening up with a well-forced dance. His shoulders weren't taut like bowstrings trying to hold a perfected foxtrot position, nor was he throwing his partner over his head in order to impress fastidious judges. No, he was having fun. Either way, he hoped the look of utter panic and surprise faded from Viviannah's face soon, or else he might've turned tail and ran – really, he didn't want to look like he forced him out onto the dance floor at gunpoint. When Viviannah's expression eased, and his movements were less constricted, less stiff, Felipe offered another tell-tale smile and tilted his head lightly, leading them in the opposite direction.

“Viviannah,” Felipe tested, unable to keep the awkward Spanish accent from his voice. Honestly, sometimes he just did that. It probably sounded rude unintentionally faking a Spanish accent - if this guys' name was actually Spanish, anyway, he wasn't entirely sure. All he knew and recognized were names that filtered through hospitals, and any that sounded mildly Hawaiian. He flushed, bowing his head quickly, and smiled. Instead of immediately responding in the usual rules of introductions, Felipe flipped the mask from his face and settled the Persian creation on his head; tufts of navy hair falling to frame his effeminate features. “Felipe LeBlanc, pleased to meet you.” He laughed merrily, rolling his amber eyes. “Sorry for startling you. Sometimes, it's just nice to start dancing.”

________________________________

Anger came hot and tawdry to lick the line of Gunnar's hot pulse, making it race and turning time into nothing more than dust. It began gnawing and parting his chest, volatile, stirring every dizzy thing within him and making him shudder. White noise clouded his thoughts, and kept his foot pressed firmly on the gas peddle; how fast was he going, anyway? One-fifty, one-eighty, one-ninety – it didn't matter. Gunnar never received a flowery letter promising good times at some damned masquerade, no, he hadn't received anything mildly comparable. The tattered letter came like a threat, or some kind of challenge that begged his body into action—boiled his blood beyond simmering. It left him tearing the crappy thing in shreds until it was illegible. He would've burned it, too, if he had a wood stove. Unfortunately, he only had his lighter and it was miraculously out of lighter fluid. Just his friggin' luck. Anyway, it mentioned the location and the fact that his ex-girlfriend was attending; not only that, it mentioned something about a man inviting her there and unmentionable ratty whispers. Even if Gunnar was no longer seeing Mischa, he still couldn't help but feel entitled to being completely, irresistibly, uncontrollably pissed off at the prospect of her being touched with someone else's hands.

Thunder clattered in his throat, causing words to constrict and tighten. He swore if anyone even so much as greeted him, Gunnar would only be able to gurgle and growl. His striking eyes glowed beneath the blinking blue lights of his automatic car-starter; they were depths of revenge, of unknown perspectives. His strong, stocky hands clenched the steering wheel so hard he was imagining that he was strangling someone; he could imagine his eyes rolling behind his head and his face turning an unsightly shade of purple and blue, until he ceased struggling. This feeling – you know it, you don't feel it often, but he does all the time – it's a cancerous beast that becomes his heart, becomes his mind, and explodes from the tips of his fingers. Changing whatever pain he feels into fuel and energy, expanding it by creating broken lips and noses. And until he's spent, Gunnar won't feel anything but that bubbling rage beating through his eardrums. Until he's killed it, only then will his cancer disappear and his mind will become his own, and he'll reflect on what he's done. Sometimes, he'll even feel sorry for what he's done. Other times, it's hard to wallow in your own self-pity that much. When you've done so many bad things, it's hard to feel bad all the time.

He was there. But, he wasn't there. Gunnar's the asshole who can't stand to be there. That's why his and Mischa's relationship hadn't worked out. He wasn't there emotionally and constantly screwed things up when things got tough – but don't get me wrong, he still loved her. He opened up and let her in, and destroyed everything. Gunnar's life is one long series of unfortunate events, all tied together under one rainy rooftop speckled with holes. Mischa fit into his life like the one good thing that he wasn't allowed to have; he was too jealous, too angry, too emotionally unstable for her. Every time something was going well, it would crash down at his feet and he'd be left cutting himself on the pieces he tried to put back together. And now, Gunnar received a letter that brought back all that pain in the most pathetic form possible: writing. How could some letter written by a stranger even affect him? She wasn't the type of girl who could sleep on a bed of nails – she felt everything and swept her fingers through your life, exploring you until she figured you out. Gunnar missed that more than anything.

I will eventually find you, and when I do, I'll kill you. Those poisonous words controlled Gunnar's thoughts as he drove along the empty road, threading down back roads until he was unsure of where he was going. He checked the remains of half-assed tapped papers he fished out from the dashboard, grumbled under his breath, and threw it on the floor. He'd even put on a semi-dressy white dress shirt, untucked, with his old man's hand-me-down jacket and matching pants. Unsentimental tokens left by his abusive father after he hightailed it out of the Macphee household. Oh well, he wouldn't miss it any. Suddenly, the scenery widened into a lamp-lit driveway with an impressive yard. Gunnar's mouth formed a hard line as he turned into it, slowing down considerably so he could examine the long limousine parked by the most extravagant mansion he'd seen. Question was: what the hell was it doing in the middle of nowhere? Fingering his keys as he idled, Gunnar finally turned off the ignition and hopped out of the car, hastily fixing his crooked tie and tucking the back of his shirt into his pants. Honestly, he didn't really give a shit what he looked like. He'd only come to punch the lights out of whoever sent the letter – or better yet, whoever was hitting on Mischa.

Stalking towards the entrance, Gunnar slammed his way through the double-doors and ignored the muted service of the matching butlers, or servants, or whatever. He flipped his hand towards them, ignoring the urge to flip them the bird. His mouth was stern, though muscles were jumping easily along his jawline and temples. From the corners of his narrowed eyes, Gunnar caught Mischa striding away from a man's open arms, both retreating with smiles on their faces. The blustering parasite swelling in his chest immediately spread through his fingers, clenching and unflinching and forming white-knuckled fists, and suddenly he was striding across the gleaming dance floor towards the grinning idiot. Whoever he was, he resembled some kind of cowboy – a cattle boy with nothing better to lose than his teeth. With every step, he swelled like a hurricane. Gunnar's hand shot forward like lightning, clutching Mike's shoulder and spinning him around so that his free hand could cock back behind his head and plunge towards his face.

I'm the worst of the best, but I'm in this race; you don't know me.