“Well, what do you think? Shall I go with the white or the pink?”
Dory looked up from between the pages of the trashy paperback that Louis-Cesare had insisted was the next best thing since Anne Rice to where her alter ego was trying to match fuschia satin and pearl silk to the pale complexion and short dark hair that were identical to Dory’s own.
“I’m not sure those are your- our- colors,” Dory said carefully.
Across the dressing room, Dorina pouted. It was an odd expression to see on her twin’s face, Dory thought, not least because watching the emotions move across Dorina’s face was like looking into an out-of-sync mirror. Not so long ago, Dory would’ve sworn that the homicidal maniac who lived in her brain would never do something so silly and human as pout, much less over clothes. But then, not so long ago, she and Dorina had occupied the same body and only communicated in confusing bursts of visions and hallucinations and the occasional rage-induced blackout, so Dory supposed she couldn’t really say for certain what constituted odd or not when it came to her twin.
Proving Dory’s point, Dorina huffed in a decidedly not-homicidal way. She put her hands on her pink-satin-encased hips and squinted at her reflection in the hanging mirror. “Mayhaps you are right,” she sighed, meeting Dory’s eyes in the glass. “Do you think an accessory would improve it?”
“What, you mean like a necklace or a scarf?” Dory asked. Personally, she thought there was nothing that could improve the magenta monstrosity of a dress except maybe destruction by fire, but she figured Dorina wouldn’t appreciate the sentiment. Instead, she said, “Why not just go with the black?”
The black dress in question was a classy, curve-hugging number that had made Dory irrationally jealous when Dorina had tried it on. But Dorina glanced at it on its hanger and wrinkled her nose like she smelled something bad. “Black is so boring,” she complained, disregarding the centuries they’d spent as devoted worshipers of the color. “I need something with more… spice.”
“The dress code here isn’t the same as it is in Faerie,” Dory tried. “On Earth, black is considered a very nice color for evening clothes.”
But Dorina wasn’t hearing it. “I have to have color,” she declared, “or the plants will outshine me.”
“What do you need a dress for, anyway?”
“I read about it in one of your vampire’s novel’s,” Dorina said vaguely. “I do believe you are correct about the pink. I will go with the white.” She shimmied out of one gown and into the other, leaving the former a pool of pink ruffles like intestines on the floor. She turned. “It is beautiful, no?”
The white dress made Dorina look like a princess straight out of a fairytale. That made sense, because the designer had assured them it was Fey. Falling in nacre shells, the layers of fabric shimmered in oleaginous rainbows as Dorina moved and they caught the light. The overall effect was like a glimpse of a scaly sea creature below rippling waves.
“It’s nice,” Dory admitted. She thought, Our reputation is so screwed.
Dorina beamed in a manner that was very unbecoming for a first level master. “I look as grand as the giant seahorse,” she murmured to herself. Dory decided not to ask.
They left the fitting room, Dorina in her princess dress and Dory in her everyday leather-jacket-and-boots combo. At the front of the shop, the owner, a tall, gangly man who had introduced himself as Augustine, appeared to be having a heated argument with a blonde woman with strange blue eyes.
As a spark of recognition made Dory pause, Dorina stiffened.
Familiar with her own body language, Dory grabbed her twin’s arm. “Wait,” she hissed, not looking forward to another trek through the cow dimension of hell.
“She hurt our sire,” Dorina growled.
“Mircea is fine,” Dory reminded. When Dorina didn’t look quite convinced, she added, “If we fight, you might ruin your dress.”
Dorina hesitated, then relaxed. Dory breathed a sigh of relief.
At that moment, the blonde turned. An expression of surprise crossed her face and quickly morphed into outrage. A fight may be on the agenda, after all, Dory thought. Shame; if Dorina’s dress was destroyed, she’d go back for the pink one, and Dory would never be able to show her face in public again.
Hands balling into fists, the woman stormed across the store, the owner on her heels. “I will not allow you to damage another one of my masterpieces,” the owner was saying passionately. “Pythia or no, I will not stand for-”
“So he lied,” the blonde interrupted the owner’s tirade. “I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised; he’s lied throughout our whole relationship. But you would think it wouldn’t matter if he told me he had one daughter or two, right?” She laughed caustically. “Twins. That’s really funny, Mircea.”
“What do you want with our sire?” Dorina demanded. “Tell me; I will not be dissuaded by the threat of your cows.”
“What sire?” The blonde scowled. “If you mean your bastard of a father, you can tell him that I don’t want anything more to do with him. He can just take his wife and leave my boyfriend alone.”
“You know Mircea,” Dory guessed.
“Know him? We’re married in the eyes of his vamps.” This time, the woman’s laughter was a bit hysterical. “What am I going to do about being married?” she muttered to herself.
“Mircea isn’t married,” Dory said, confused. Not for five centuries, she silently added.
“See for yourself,” the woman said, brushing her hair away from her neck.
Dory didn’t notice anything unusual, but Dorina gasped and took a step back. “I do not know how I did not feel his claim immediately,” she murmured. “I have been too distracted with the date.”
Dory tried to remember what was significant about this day in particular and came up with nothing.
“Do you both shop at Augustine’s often?” the woman asked after a minute. Dory thought it might have been to give herself a chance to blink the shimmer from her eyes.
“This is my first time,” Dorina answered, still looking a bit unsettled. “I needed a Fey designer, and he came highly recommended.”
“His creations can be really beautiful,” the woman agreed, still sounding forlorn.
Where he’d been watching the conversation with a frown, the owner puffed up. Then, he plastered a grumpy expression back on his face. “This does not mean I will give you a gown.”
“If I promise to be extra careful?”
“You have no respect,” Augustine grumbled. But he said, “I will send something up. Since you are Pythia.”
“Finally, some job benefits,” the woman said.
“You’re Pythia?” Dory said.
“That does make sense,” Dorina mused.
“Yes,” the woman said glumly. And then: “Hey. Do you want to get dinner?”
Dory and Dorina stared.
“It’s just that I don’t want to call one of my bodyguards. They all belong to Mircea,” she said, sounding defensive, “and I know a really good pizza place.”
“Deep dish?” Dory asked.
“You’ve got yourself a dinner partner."
“I will also come,” Dorina said. “There is something I must tell you, Dory.”
That sounded rather foreboding. Dory wondered what type of secret her own self could be keeping from her. At least there’d be pizza, since Dory had missed lunch.
Dorina and Dory followed the Pythia, who introduced herself as Cassie, down the strip to the pizza place. Claiming a table with a view of the layout, they ordered two meat-lovers pizzas and sat down rather awkwardly. It was Dorina who broke the silence. “I will not eat the pizza,” she declared. “I cannot risk dirtying my gown. This is what I must speak with you about, Dory.”
“Laundry?” Dory asked, baffled.
“No.” Dorina bit her lip. Sheepishness was an expression Dory had never thought she’d see on a vampire’s face, but Dorina looked almost guilty. “Dory… while I was in Faerie, I met someone.”
It took Dory a minute. She blamed it on the mouthwatering scent of pizza drifting distractingly throughout the restaurant and her rumbling stomach. “Someone? You don’t mean romantically.”
“I do mean this,” Dorina disagreed. “I like him very much. We are meeting tonight to go on a date. It is good that I have found such a beautiful dress.” She smoothed her hands over the bodice. “He is very fond of ruffles,” she added, sounding pleased.
“But… what about Louis-Cesare? We’re married, Dorina! I can’t be hooking up with some other guy in Faerie!”
“Well, it will only be me, yes?” Dorina reasoned. “The hooking up, I mean?”
“But what happens when it’s not? We’re not going to be separate forever. This is only until Mircea is able to negotiate for the spell to bring us back together!”
Dorina pursed her lips. “Perhaps we do not need a spell.”
“Not need…” Dory trailed off.
“I’m not following,” Cassie said. “You’re not both married to the same guy, right? Because the way this is sounding-”
“No. We are dhampir. From birth, we have shared a single body,” Dorina explained patiently, still looking at Dory. “It is because of a Fey spell that we are now separate. Dory, consider it. Is not some part of you happier alone in your own skin? Do you not enjoy the freedom of your sanity? Do you not want me to be happy?”
“You’re not twins? Perhaps he didn’t lie about everything, then,” Cassie murmured.
“Of course I want you to be happy,” Dory snapped. “But think about this. For better or worse, we’ve always existed together. Now, you want us to be separate. Because of a guy.”
Dorina looked chagrined. “I thought telling you while we shopped together would make it easier. In your vampire’s novels, the best friends gossip and understand each other perfectly while they shop.”
“You’re taking advice from Louis-Cesare’s trashy paperbacks?”
“I will tell him you said that about his books,” Dorina said mildly.
Because Dory wasn’t the only one with a vindictive side, Dory thought. And damn it, she wasn’t being fair. “I’m sorry. You’re right. You deserve a choice after all the years of being a prisoner in our own head. It’s just a lot of change.”
“It is exciting,” Dorina reminded.
At some point during their conversation, the pizza had arrived. Munching on a slice, Cassie watched the exchange avidly. “This is as good as a trashy novel,” she mumbled, mouth full. “I have to admit, I was prepared to hate you because you’re Mircea’s, um, daughter, but that heart-to-heart was kind of sweet. What’s the guy’s name?”
Dory blinked, torn between correcting Cassie on her idea of ‘cute’ and demanding to know the same. The latter won out. “Who did you meet in Faerie, Dorina?”
Dorina smiled slowly.
“I have been feeling conflicted recently, my old friend,” Mircea murmured, staring into the mirror as he fiddled with his cuff links.
“You’re not on about that- that mage again, are you?” Kit said, trying to hide his disgust and failing, based on the look that Mircea tossed him from over his shoulder. In Kit’s defense, there was only so much talk about John Pritkin’s adorably messy blonde hair and war mage physique one could take before one began to go crazy, and not in the fangirling, obsessive way that seemed to have infected his long-time friend and colleague. “You do remember he’s dating your pet Pythia, don’t you?”
“She is my wife,” Mircea said mildly.
“You know no one thinks of it that way. Mircea, you haven’t been a horny teenager in 500 odd years. Get a grip, man!”
“I should be angry,” Mircea mused. “He is challenging my claim by dating Cassie. But I look at him, into his fierce green eyes, and I cannot help but be jealous of my Cassie, for getting to run her hands through that spiky hair and taste those lips. And I have never even been interested in men!”
Kit snorted. “Five centuries is a long time to be in the closet.”
Mircea’s gaze darted to Kit’s face. “This is funny to you.”
“Believe me, I’m the furthest thing from laughing.” Actually, Kit was feeling as conflicted as Mircea professed himself to be. On one hand, Mircea’s obsession with the war mage was absolutely a disaster. Kit was both morbidly curious and sensibly terrified to see what his Lady’s reaction would be when he told her of it. On the other, it suited Kit just fine for Mircea to be distracted right now, because that meant that Mircea was less likely to notice Kit’s own crush.
But not on John Pritkin.
Inwardly, Kit released a groan of despair. But aloud, he said, “I do not see what the problem is. You have the blackmail of the century on the man. He has worked hard to keep his secret; what would be the harm in making him work a little harder?”
Swirling the amber liquid in the crystal glass where it sat on the edge of the dresser, Mircea frowned. “That would be rather… immoral.”
“It’s never bothered you before.”
Mircea stared at him blankly. “But…”
“He wouldn’t like me very much.”
They looked at each other. Okay, Kit thought, maybe they had a problem. And it was bigger than his own little infatuation with- he stopped himself. Mircea may have been preoccupied, but he was still one of the most powerful mentalists in the world. Kit couldn’t afford to slip up.
“Finish getting ready,” Kit instructed. “The Consul is waiting for your report. After that, we can figure out what to do about your… problem.”
Mircea’s eyes cleared. “Of course, the report,” he repeated, and swiftly finished straightening his tie.
Putting extra effort into keeping his face and mind blank, Kit watched Mircea step into his dress shoes. Come on, come on, he thought. If vampires sweat, his shirt would’ve been damp and sticking to his body.
Finally, Mircea departed, leaving Kit alone. He slumped in relief; his secret was his own for a little longer. He strode over to the mirror his friend had vacated and studied his reflection. His dark curls were messy, but in what his people had assured him was a ‘charming’ manner. His clothes were fresh and smart, his tie a vivid purple that he knew his date would appreciate. In fact, his family had told him he looked all-around very nice. “Not that you’ve ever cared before,” Liam, his second, had muttered when Kit had asked, which Kit had probably deserved.
Could he really do this? Risk the wrath of one of the most formidable creatures, when it came to family, that Kit had ever met?
He pictured her dancing dark eyes, her full lips. Thought of her quicksilver skills in combat, her ruthlessness, her childlike fascination with the art of being. Imagined her delight when she saw A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the play that Kit had chosen for their date tonight, and Kit’s contemporary’s interpretation of Faerie.
She was so worth it.
He straightened his jacket and left to meet Dorina.
“Please tell me I heard you wrong. Please.”
“I can’t believe this. All this time, you’ve been cavorting with the enemy!”
“He is hardly our enemy. We are all three of us on the same Senate.”
“And how long is that going to last, when her Snakiness learns that you and I aren’t planning to splice back together again? No, don’t answer that; that’s not the biggest problem here. The problem is that you are going on a date with Marlowe!”
Dorina stood up to glare at Dory. “No, the problem is not Kit. It is your double standard! You are accepting when I tell you that I would like to date someone I met in Faerie, someone who may very well be an enemy, or at least of questionable alignments. I would have thought that when I revealed the name of a close ally, you would have felt relief! But you are allowing your prejudice against vampires- against me- to cloud your judgement!”
“I don’t have prejudice against vampires, just that vampire! You weren’t awake during that chase through the swamp in the ‘90s. I was! He tried to drown us. He tried to suffocate us. He practically smashed in our skull! And now you’re dressing up for him, going on a date with him-”
“As though you were not trying to kill him, too! He has learned, over the years, to respect us, as we have him. And he and I worked together and bonded in Faerie.”
“I can’t believe this,” Dory groaned again. Cassie offered her another slice of pizza, which she took. It didn’t cheer her up much.
“Believe it,” Dorina snapped. She glanced down at her boot-clad feet. “I am going to go find shoes for my dress. And then, I am going to go on a date with the man I like, and I will not allow you to stop me.”
She turned heads as she stormed out of the restaurant, her vampiric grace combined with the pearlescence of the dress mesmerizing.
Dory finished her pizza. “I’m going to kill him,” she growled.
“She seems like she can take care of herself,” Cassie offered tentatively. “She’s maybe a little eccentric, but she knows what she wants.”
“She has no common sense. She’s never needed it! Her job was always to kill things, nothing more. He’s probably just toying with her to get back at me. Mircea, he, my husband, and I are all on the Senate, you know; he’s probably trying to get information about the family from her. And she doesn’t know what he’s like; her first ever romance, and she’ll get her heart broken-”
“Don’t you think you’re overreacting just a little? It’s only their first date.”
“What I think is that I’m going to follow them. And you’re going to help me!”
“You’re Pythia, right? Dorina told me about the way you can teleport from place to place. You can help me watch them without being caught!”
“Wait a second.” Cassie paused mid-chew. “You want me to help you spy. On the Chief Spy?”
“I went out to eat with you so you wouldn’t have to do an awkward dinner with your ex-husband’s family,” Dory reminded her.
Cassie thought. “Fine,” she sighed. “But only the first date. If they go on any future dates, you’re on your own.”
“Deal,” Dory agreed, and took the offered hand.
Dory and Cassie spent the evening shadowing Marlowe and Dorina on their date. With a little help from Cassie’s power, they snuck into the theatre where the couple was watching a play. Dory thought it wasn’t a bad rendition of Shakespeare, but it almost put Cassie to sleep.
“It’s all the pizza I ate,” she said ruefully, when Dory shook her awake yet again.
“Shh,” Dory hissed. “Vampire hearing, remember?”
Luckily, it seemed like Dorina and Marlowe were too caught up in each other to notice any suspicious presences. It was a neat trick, considering Marlowe’s job and general paranoia. Dory decided her twin must have bought a charm for luck, because surely no one’s first date could go that well, right? Right. Except Dorina and Marlowe seemed to really be hitting it off. They held hands during the first acts, and during the intermission, Marlowe listened to Dorina talk excitedly about the play with stars in his eyes while the pair bought drinks. After intermission, his hand strayed to her thigh (“How dare he touch her like that, Cassie!”), and a small smile played absently on her lips for the rest of the evening.
Unaware of Cassie and Dorina perched on a rooftop across the street, they stood together under the Vegas lights after the play was over.
“I would be happy to go to more plays with you, Kit,” Dorina was saying. “I confess I am concerned about- Mircea!”
On her stomach beside Cassie, Dory jolted.
Oblivious- Gosh, he really must be head over heels, Dory thought- Marlowe agreed, “I feel the same. But he can be reasonable. If we decide the right time and place to tell him-”
“Tell me what?” the man himself asked from where he and his partner had stopped near Marlowe and Dorina.
In a movement too fast to track, Marlowe spun around. The blood drained from his face. “Mircea,” he said blankly. “I thought you would be at the Consul’s.”
“Who is that with him?” Cassie whispered to Dory from a street over. “That’s not-”
“Shh,” Dory hushed her.
“Our lady was pleased with the report. She had no further need of me,” Mircea said. His eyes drifted to Dorina, and his expression tightened. That was his usual reaction to seeing Dorina in the flesh of late, which Dory didn’t think was fair. “Dorina, where is your other half?” Mircea asked her stiffly.
Dorina had no poker face. Her eyes slanted towards Dory and Cassie on the rooftop. How long did you know? Dory thought, standing up and brushing herself off, because the game was up.
You are my twin, my own self. I always know where you are.
Cassie stood up as well and shifted them both down to the party on the street. “Pritkin,” she gasped. “It is you. What are you and Mircea doing wandering around Vegas?”
Dory asked Dorina, “If you knew I was there all along, why didn’t you say something?”
“You were following us?” Marlowe exclaimed, outraged.
“We were just about to go looking for you, Cassie,” the war mage said, running a hand through his hair.
“Why? You know what, I don’t really want to see either of you right now,” Cassie snapped, crossing her arms over her chest.
Dorina said, “I thought if you chaperoned our date, it would reassure you that I am happy and well, and you would not be so against a relationship between Kit and me.”
“Relationship?” Mircea echoed, a spark appearing in the depths of his dark eyes.
Dory took a moment to process the multiple overlapping conversations. A brilliant idea occurred to her, and her lips curved into a wicked smirk. “Mircea,” she said sweetly, “I’ve noticed we haven’t done any father-daughter bonding activities recently. What do you say about working together to murder Marlowe for taking half of me out on a date without either of our approval?”
A matching devious smile began to form on Mircea’s face. They really do look alike, Kit thought, before he took off down the street, running for his life with his girlfriend’s- girlfriend’s?- father and alternate personality hot on his heels. Dorina hurried after them to run interference.
Back outside the theatre, Pritkin put a hand on Cassie’s shoulder. She shrugged him off, and he combed his fingers through his hair again. “Cassie,” he began agitatedly, “I know I haven’t been the best partner recently-”
“We never even decided if we’re actually dating,” Cassie huffed.
“-but hear me out. Your vampire proposed an idea that I found quite… interesting. Of course, only if you are willing.”
“You’re not making any sense, Pritkin.”
Pritkin put his arm back around her, and this time she let him. They walked together as he said, “Lord Mircea mentioned the difficulties in maintaining the alliance between the Circle and the Senate. He pointed out the important role the Pythia plays in fostering communication among the supernatural community and expressed his sympathy that you must carry such a burden on your own during these difficult times.”
“That was… kind of him,” Cassie said, bewildered. Since when did Pritkin and Mircea talk politics? And since when did they agree?
“He suggested that he and I have the unique opportunity to strengthen the alliance through our connections to you. He suggested-” Pritkin licked his lips- “that perhaps the three of us could work… closely… together for the common good.”
Cassie’s brow furrowed. “What are you talking about? Of course, I want the alliance to work out, and anyway that anyone can help me-”
“I’m not saying this clearly,” Pritkin said frustratedly. “He wants the three of us to be in a relationship. A threesome. And I’m not all together sure that he gives a damn about the alliance.”
There must have been something in the pizza, Cassie thought. She blinked slowly, but when she opened her eyes, Pritkin was still standing there, washed out in the city light and looking harassed and fearful and hopeful all at once.
When she let herself believe that the last few minutes had actually happened, her first reaction was disbelief and anger that they had been negotiating something so important to her future behind her back. Her second was a delicious surge of curiosity and excitement.
“I’ll have to tell Lord Mircea,” she said slowly, “that I think his proposal has wonderful potential… for the alliance, of course.”
Cassie and Pritkin grinned at each other. Then, they set off to find their lover, wherever he had managed to terrorize one-half-of-his-daughter’s date.