"No wonder Nicholas enjoys your company so much." Janette swept into Natalie's workroom. The scent of formaldehyde did little to cover the decay that permeated the entirety of this quaint little monument to mortality.
She used her thumb and forefinger to lift the corner of a thick, black plastic body bag that held the scents of too many mortals to count and looked down. The blank and unseeing eyes of a corpse stared up at her, and she shuddered theatrically before letting it fall back into place. "You spend your nights with corpses. The man has a positively morbid streak sometimes, don't you think?
The only bit of vibrancy in the room was Natalie, standing in front of her desk with her arms crossed. The faint hint of floral shampoo and the tang of citrus wafted across the room. Her heart was beating quickly, and Janette smiled at the nervousness that Natalie refused to betray. "You didn't come by just to chat, did you?" asked Natalie. "I have work to do."
The woman certainly did defend Nicholas with a fierce doggedness, didn't she? "Actually, I did." Janette made a show of surveying the room as she let her wrap slide down her arms. "I thought it would be a good time to get to know someone who's so very--" She paused and let herself focus on Natalie. "Who's so very close to Nicholas."
That little tidbit seemed to throw Natalie for a loop. "I--" She frowned, a little wrinkle forming between her eyebrows as she worried at the new information. "I see. Is something wrong?"
"No, no, of course not." Janette let her gloved hand sweep out in a gesture that encompassed the room. "But it occurs to me that I know very little of this 'life' that Nicholas has made for himself outside vampire society. Or the people in it."
"You already met Schanke," said Natalie. She chuckled and leaned back on her desk as the beat of her heart began to echo more slowly. "I figured he'd be enough to last you at least a century."
"Perhaps longer," agreed Janette. She made a little pout of distaste, though truly, if one could look beyond his boorishness, Schanke was not quite so bad as all that. She might even call him admirable, though certainly not aloud.
"Right," said Natalie. She shook her head, still looking both amused and perplexed. "I still don't get it."
"What is there to 'get?'" asked Janette. She shrugged. It was a tiny gesture, but meant to be so. "I understand neither Nicholas' quest for mortality, nor his desire to pretend he is one of you. But there is something that has drawn him away from my world."
"You got me on what that is," said Natalie. She looked less curious, and perhaps even more amused now. "I've got my theories, but maybe it's something you just can't understand unless you spend time with us mortals."
"Which is such a charming thing." Janette sighed and let her hand flutter in a dismissive gesture. "You all die so quickly. I do not understand the appeal."
"Mortality isn't about death, Janette." Natalie's voice took on vibrancy. There was a fire inside this one. It was the same fire that drew Nick to all mortals. "It's about living, not stagnating. I mean, I'm sorry to break it to you, but for all the moving around you do, most of you guys get a little stuck in the past."
"I see," said Janette slowly. Perhaps the fire inside Natalie was not - quite - the same fire as the other mortals Nicholas had consorted with.
"On the other hand, maybe it's just enough that it's what Nick wants," added Natalie, after Janette had remained silent for a moment.
She never knew whether or not she would have agreed, or what she would have said to that. Nicholas pushed his way through Natalie's door just then, and froze in the entryway. "Janette. Nat." He sounded confused, which was good. It would not do for Nicholas to think she had become predictable. "Hi."
Janette turned and smiled. "Nicholas," she said. "How are you?"
He held up a white styrofoam container that smelled like roasted meat. Chicken, perhaps. "I thought I'd bring some dinner for Natalie," he said, glancing down at the body bag. "I heard you got unexpectedly busy tonight."
"You're looking at victim number two in a murder-suicide," said Natalie. "They brought him and his buddy in late, and I've got to get done in time to meet Sara and Amy for breakfast in the morning."
"You want some, Janette?" asked Nicholas, and he was wearing that same impish smile that he knew annoyed her so when it was aimed at her. "It's fried chicken. I brought enough for Grace too, but I don't see her around. I'm sure Nat would be willing to share."
Janette narrowed her eyes at Nicholas, as well as at the stifled yelp of laughter from Natalie behind her. "Chicken?" she asked. She'd rather drink that disgusting cow's blood in his refrigerator. "I think not."
He shrugged diffidently and stepped around the body to wave the styrofoam under Janette's nose. "You sure?" he asked. "I'm given to understand that Crown's has the best fried chicken in Toronto."
"I am certain." Janette's voice was tight as she pushed the container away from her. The stench of chemicals, seared meat, and oil turned her stomach. "I find it does not agree with me."
"I've noticed you guys like it when your food agrees with you," said Natalie. "Literally." There was some wry sympathy in her voice, but amusement sparked in Nicholas' eyes. Janette frowned at him for finding amusement in her discomfort.
Some of it died away, and he handed the box to Natalie, who took it with a sympathetic look at Janette. It was set, unopened, on the desk. This mortal friend of Nick's, at least, had a level of tact to which Detective Schanke could aspire.
"Why are you here, Janette?" asked Nick. "Is there something you need?"
"No, no, everything is quite well." Janette settled her shrug back around her shoulders. "I just thought that, since I had to spend some time in the company of Detective Schanke, I should get to know Natalie a little better as well."
She swept out the door in much the same manner as she had swept into the room.
"What was all that about?" she heard Natalie ask. One of these nights, Nicholas should really inform her about the sharpness of a vampire's senses.
She didn't need to see them to know Nicholas had turned his head to look toward the door. Certainly she could hear enough puzzlement in his voice to put a satisfied look on her face. "I really have no idea," he said.
If she had her way, he never would. A little mystery to puzzle out always did Nicholas some good. It seemed that Natalie was almost as much a puzzle to him as she herself was. Janette could content herself that at least this mad start seemed less likely to end in disaster than the previous ones.