Elliot Mantle was unsurprised to learn that even as a vampire, he had social obligations to keep. He was satisfied - if not actually pleased - that such obligations were easier to tolerate as a member of the Kindred than they were when he was still mortal. Now that he was above the rest of the human race, the company of humans was much more tolerable. And the Masquerade that insisted that he attend public events also provided a good place to find a bite to eat.
The fundraising dinner that required his attention this spring evening was not much different from dozens of others that Elliot had sat through in his time. Several scores of guests were mostly uncomfortable in formal wear - although Elliot wasn't one of them - and the crowd moved somewhat easier for being lubricated by an open bar. Elliot's own drink rested untouched on the edge of his table while he spoke quietly on his celphone.
"No, she's not here yet." Elliot was speaking to his brother, Beverly who - as usual - chose to stay away from these events whenever possible. Elliot was the social tiger of the pair and they were both happy with that.
Elliot frowned at Beverly's petulant tone. "Yes, I will talk to her about it. We can't bring this up to..." Elliot checked his words - he was in public. "To the higher ups." he concluded. "We don't need that kind of attention."
Glancing upwards, Elliot noticed a beautiful blonde heading his way, leaving a number of turned heads in her wake. She wore a very au courant flame-red ensemble, marred by her severe frown and determined pace. Elliot recognized her as his Sire, Patricia, in disguise. She had several faces on hand to pose as various dates for Elliot as needed and this blonde was one of them.
"She's here. I'll talk to you later." Elliot abruptly ended the conversation with his brother and returned the small phone to his pocket.
Apparently with great mental effort, Patricia smiled and leaned over Elliot, lightly kissing his cheek as she sat down.
Obligated to keep to the charade, Elliot returned the smile. "Maeve, I was beginning to think you had forsaken me." he declared, just loudly enough for the few others nearby to hear him.
"Maeve's" smile wavered, but managed to stay put. "I'd never abandon you, Eli." she replied brightly, a false undertone jarring. "The others, maybe, but not you."
Elliot had put up with a score of catty lovers in his lifetime and he wasn't about to be thrown off his pace now. "I'm glad to hear it, dear. Won't you have something to drink?"
"An excessively large vodka and tonic, I think." Patricia agreed, giving her order to a passing waiter. She had finally learned the trick of eating in public, taught to her by her childer during their months together.
A minute's silence passed as Patricia evaluated the crowd and waited for her drink. Once it had been delivered and the waiter gone from the table, she leaned towards Elliot, her manner conspirital.
"I told you not to touch my bag," she said, her light manner contrasting with her dark tone.
"What makes you think we did?" Elliot asked, his expression equally contrasting his words. Here we go, he thought. Patricia was referring to an incident the night before that culminated with the twins learning that their Sire was involved in activities that required a large number of sharp instruments and no medical license.
"They weren't put back in the right order." Patricia replied quickly. Elliot could sense her struggling to keep a public expression that was at odds with her internal anger. The strain showed in her voice and Elliot glanced around casually, making sure that no one was eavesdropping. Fortunately, the currents of the crowd had moved away. "It's my bag." She muttered, sullen.
"Sorry." Elliot's insincerity was obvious. "Poor Bev was too busy being terrified to-"
"Doctor Marsden!" the interruption came from behind. "So you did make it, I'm so glad!"
Elliot turned to face the intruder, Helen DuPont, a dowager of Vancouver charity society. Her carefully colored hair and designer dresses were more fitting to the socialite role she preferred to play, but nights like this enabled her to combine altruism and ego in a fine publicity-winning way.
True to her reputation, Helen had made a few trips to the bar already and her expression was intoxicated but enthusiastic. Both Elliot and Patricia guessed that the good lady had about another hour before she passed out.
Elliot stood, smiling, and took Helen's hand in his. "Of course I did, Helen. I wouldn't miss the chance to see you." He knew the value of chatting up generous donors.
Helen giggled, the girlish mannerism out of place with a woman in her late fifties, and kept her grip on "Doctor Marsden"'s hand. "You're too kind." she replied, heavily flirtatious.
Patricia abandoned her pique, momentarily, and interrupted before Helen could speak again.
"Helen?" Patricia's public persona was now in the fore and she was all friendly charm. "You've obviously bewitched Eli here as I've never seen him forget to perform introductions." She stood, extending a hand to the other woman. After a tipsy moment of confusion Helen released Elliot's hand and took Patricia's with a smile that betrayed a little annoyance. 'I'm Maeve Wilson." Patricia made a point of placing her free arm around Elliot's waist.
Helen glanced at the pair, comprehension slowly dawning. "Oh, yes. How nice to meet you." Helen assessed the guise that Patricia wore, her smile fading. Patricia was rather proud of Maeve, who was a composite of three internationally known models. When Elliot had declared that he wanted a pretty girl as his date, neither he nor Trish saw any point in half-measures.
As soon as Helen had absorbed the presence of the almost-impossibly-beautiful creature at Elliot's side, she quickly muttered a comment about needing a drink and wobbled away. Patricia returned to her seat, slowly but unmistakably re-establishing the distance between herself and Elliot.
"God, what a chore." she muttered, finally taking her drink in hand.
"We've got to maintain appearances, love." Elliot chided. "It's not easy for me either."
"That's no surprise." Patricia replied sourly. Something in her tone bothered Elliot.
"What do you mean by that?" he snapped, nettled.
Patricia stared at him for a moment, considering her reply. That in itself surprised Elliot, given her habit of speaking without thinking when her temper was up, as it so obviously was.
She finished her drink and thudded the glass down on to the tabletop. "We're pretty close." she began. "I know a lot about you." Patricia quickly stalled an oncoming comment from Elliot. "Yes, yes, I know you've just realized that it's not a two way street. Bitch at me later." she paused for moment. "And...Considering how you feel about women..."Elliot raised an eyebrow, betraying either surprise or amusement - exactly which wasn't clear to Patricia. "Well...I'm surprised you feel the need to maintain a lady-killing reputation. Good thing you're not practicing any more, hm?"
If Patricia expected Elliot to be stung by her words, she was to be disappointed. "Been eavesdropping?" he asked easily.
Patricia's answer was a meaningless throwaway gesture. "When you two little dears start thinking in unison, it's rather hard to ignore."
"That's not an answer." Elliot persisted.
Trish frowned. She didn't like being on the receiving end of questions. She wasn't used to having to justify anything she did - be it a breach of manners or otherwise. "Frankly, yes. Something in your manner was bothering me." she admitted. "So I listened a little more closely." she paused and fiddled with her empty glass. "'Useless bitches' was about the nicest thing I heard. When you were thinking of it on a conscious level, I mean." she commented. "I'm surprised you haven't asked me to leave the haven." she added.
Elliot sipped his drink and shrugged. "It's not as if you're really a woman," he said simply. Patricia was startled by that, but didn't comment. "You've said so yourself that gender doesn't mean that much to us." Elliot continued. "That's why we can tolerate your company, and why I ask you to play girlfriend. But obviously you've guessed that already."
Patricia scrambled to recover her shaken composure. "Good point." she admitted, gracelessly.
"Smile, Maeve, we don't need people thinking we're fighting." Elliot warned her.
"You mean we aren't?" Patricia snapped.
Elliot laughed lightly, genuinely amused. "No. We're not. Just clearing the air."
Patricia shook her head ruefully. "Then I hope we never fight."
Elliot nodded in agreement. Despite this momentary spat, he didn't want to alienate his Sire. "About your...other job," Patricia's expression immediately became defensive. "You are keeping to the rules, aren't you?"
This was another area that Patricia didn't want to open to discussion. "Of course I bloody am. Don't worry about it."
Elliot noticed Trish's aura confirming the truth of what she said, as well as her irritation. "Good." He sensed her disquiet at their conversation, and decided that this might give him an advantage. Last night's incident had proven to him that Patricia was better at dissimulation that he had ever anticipated.
"Are you working on - I mean, with, our associates?" For a moment Elliot was irritated at the circular language this public venue demanded. He hated dancing around a point.
Patricia looked puzzled for a moment before discerning his meaning. "No. Nor for them, either. I said don't worry about it." Her tone was abrupt. This was something she preferred to keep to herself, entirely, but she didn't want to erode the trust she had carefully built between herself and her childer.
"I have to worry, Patricia. My reputation - and Beverly's - are tied up with yours. You're already on shaky ground because of your past politics. You should have told us about your other, ah, peculiarities."
"Peculiarities?" Patricia echoed sarcastically. "From the one who designed gynecological instruments for mutant women?" she whispered back.
"So perhaps we have a better understand of your peculiarities than most." Elliot replied quickly. "For all I know, we already had your blood in our system, perhaps? The memory neatly removed and us none-"
"What?" Patricia interrupted sharply. "You can say whatever you like about my personal life, but how dare you accuse me of something like that?" Her voice was rising. She was outraged that Elliot could even conceive of her doing such a thing.
Elliot noticed that they were attracting attention. Again calling on skills that had been honed by previous public scenes, he kept his manner nonchalant. "You've already proven you've kept secrets." he reminded her. Deliberately needling a sadist with a poor temper might not have been the wisest course, Elliot realized, but he knew anger rarely left room for lies.
Patricia fumed. Belatedly, she noticed a growing crowd. "That cuts both ways, and you know it." she replied tightly.
"Apt choice of words." Elliot murmured, smiling.
"That's enough!" Patricia jumped up, ignoring the glass that fell and shattered on the floor. "If you want to play stupid fucking word games, you can do it on your own time. I won't take that shit from Michael, and I'm certainly not going to take it from you." Patricia, already hurt by Elliot's implication, was infuriarated by a behavior that she perceived as manipulative and petty. She has escaped that from her Sire - as she had said - she wasn't going to take it from her childe.
Consoling herself with that thought, Patricia stormed out of the room; not caring about the surprised guests that watched her departure. Elliot smiled ruefully and tried to contain the situation. "Never ask about past lovers." he commented to the crowd in general. "Especially the rich ones."
The response from onlookers was minimal, but Elliot sensed calmness returning as people moved away. Humans needed a lot of reassurance at times, but their gullibility made it easy. Glancing at his watch, Elliot realized he couldn't leave just yet. Sighing, he reached for the phone in his pocket and called Beverly.