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  1. #61
    Declan McDermott and Clare Murphy



    The instruments were tuned. The sound had been checked and rechecked. Out where Declan couldn't see, out beyond the curtains, the audience was filing in. Now it was just a matter of waiting till it was time to go on stage. Declan could only hope that wherever Riff was in the crowd, he'd found the person he was looking for.

    Something was bothering Declan, and the waiting was making him antsy, so he figured he might as well ask. "Clare, what are you doing here with me?" he asked honestly.

    Clare looked up from her book. "You're my boyfriend and I love you," she said, with an implied 'duh.'

    Declan cracked a crooked smile. "Well yeah, I get that part but... why did you even talk to me in the first place? You remembered that I looked like that guy, right...?"

    Clare instantly understood, and became more sympathetic. Declan was still processing her old memory - and wondering why she was now sharing her bed with someone who looked like the ringleader of her attackers all those years ago.

    "I was startled when I first saw you," she told him bluntly.

    Declan nodded. Of course she had been, though she hadn't shown it. They'd met at a house party, bumping into each other at the appetizer table, and Declan had been intrigued by her, the curls and gorgeous eyes. He'd wanted to know more. But why had she?

    "I was going to brush you off," Clare admitted. "No offense - you're attractive, but you did look like him. But then you started talking. You were just... yourself. I could see that right away. You were so warm, so kind and good. Once I realized that, you didn't look much like him anymore."

    "Thanks," Declan said. "It means a lot to hear."

    It was still a lot to come to terms with. Declan had a lot of questions. But at least knowing Clare wasn't seeing a monster every time she looked across the dinner table - well, that was reassuring.
    "Sleep to dream, and we dream to live..." -Great Big Sea

  2. #62
    Paladin Quaxo9 is offline Quaxo9's Avatar
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    Riff

    It felt so good - so right - to hold her again. All those years of heartache melted away in mere seconds with her touch. "I really am" he murmured into her ear, "and so are you."

    He wanted this moment to last forever, and yet knew that if he didn't make it end that it could very well end forever. Still in their embrace, he whispered in her ear even as he glanced at the crowd slowly building up in the auditorium around them.

    "Have you two been safe? We have friends backstage - might be a good time to move back there."

    The huge smile on his face hadn't changed when he leaned back slightly to point the them in the direction they would be going, even though it would have been clear to Maria that as he did so he was scanning the attendees for possible risks.
    Winner of the dubious Vaarsuvius Award for Verbousness!

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  3. #63
    Maria

    "We've been alright," Maria said, following in the direction Riff was indicating as she spoke. She too was scanning the crowd for risks, but no one seemed to be paying any attention. Now that it was clear the couple wasn't about to do anything interesting like an elaborate marriage proposal or a dramatic breakup, the rest of the concert-goers seemed content to ignore them in favor of finding their seats.

    "I got a job at a school up in the mountains," she explained as they made their way backstage. "It's quiet there. Very out of the way. No one from the outside really bothers us."

    She paused, then decided that with Riff she could finally be totally honest. "It gets sad sometimes, though. Being so isolated up there... and the children. Some of their families don't seem to want them at all. It breaks my heart. But I do what I can to help. At least I know I've been doing some good. How about you? Have you been safe too? Have you been here in Switzerland the whole time?"

    It would be hard to swallow if they'd been this close all these years without knowing it.

  4. #64
    Paladin Quaxo9 is offline Quaxo9's Avatar
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    Riff

    It seemed right that Maria would be working at a school, taking care of children who were heartsick. Her spirit was so kind. Riff pondered what he should tell Maria about his work. It was often dangerous and it wasn't exactly in line with 'lying low' 100% of the time. Still, that wasn't a good enough reason to not tell her the whole truth. He just hoped he didn't worry her.

    "Well, I haven't be in any one place for very long. I've been travelling and working with the Underground - helping people move into new lives. Safer lives. It's just been me and Pepper all over Europe." He looked down at her, apologetic. "It hasn't been the safest work, I'm sorry. I just couldn't stay low and not help. Just so you know, things around here might be getting a bit hot. We're safe for now, just not sure how long that will last."

    They arrived backstage and Pepper ran up to greet the two new arrivals, whining and rolling over on herself in excitement over the familiar people. Riff bent low to keep Pepper from completely bowling Sofie over - the dog calming to a bum-wagging sit. "I don't know if you remember, Sofie, but this is Millie's dog Pepper - and she sure remembers you! She just wants to say hi." Pepper was obliging to whatever type of greeting Sofie and Maria might give.

    Turning his attention to the people, Riff waved emphatically at Declan and Clare. "GUYS! IT WORKED! Maria got the message and this is her and Sofie. This is Declan and Clare - the song was Declan's idea."

    Obviously, despite the serious sideline, he was still a wildly excited Lycan who had found his two favourite people in the world.

  5. #65
    Maria

    "I'm proud of you, Riff," Maria said. "I really am. You're so brave, and you care so much. It doesn't surprise me at all that you're doing this, and I admire it. Not to say it doesn't worry me to think of you putting yourself at risk, of course - but you are who you are, and you've never been one to sit idly by. I wouldn't ask you to."

    Maria did need to figure out how she and Sofie fit into Riff's new life, however. He had said he still loved her, and she was confident that it was true - but could they make it work? She desperately hoped they could. She couldn't imagine living without Riff again, now that they'd finally found each other.

    This wasn't the place for that conversation, though. They needed more privacy... and it wasn't a discussion she planned to have in front of Sofie. Her daughter didn't need to be burdened with the complexities of an adult relationship.

    For now, she just petted Pepper - while Sofie gave the dog a big hug - and said a shy but pleasant hello to Clare and Declan when she was introduced. Maria tended to be reserved around strangers, but Declan broke the ice by breaking into a huge grin and giving Riff a brotherly slap on the back.

    "That's wonderful, mate!" he said. "So glad it worked. I mean... of course I knew it would! But. I'm so glad it worked!"

    Clare smiled at her boyfriend's enthusiasm. "Wonderful to meet you, Maria and Sofie," she said.

  6. #66
    Paladin Quaxo9 is offline Quaxo9's Avatar
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    Riff

    The Lycan beamed and hugged Declan whether the man was was ready for it or not. At that moment the stage manager appeared and gave a five-minute warning. Riff had a momentary inner battle of wanting to see the show with his girlfriend...and wanting to just be with his girlfriend. The latter easily won out. With Maria around, he had no need for distractions.

    "Want to hang out back stage until the show's over? I've been staying with the band so I don't have a place to go to right now - sorry about that." He felt a twinge of failure at once again failing to provide what would be needed to have his dream of a family become a reality. Fortunately, it wasn't anything he couldn't do anything about. Now that he'd found Maria and Sofie, he could figure out how to provide for them again, not that they needed his help.

    "So, a school? Full time, then? That's great! They wouldn't happen to need a custodian or a gardener or anything, would they? I mean, you probably want to keep your job when it's been a good gig, right?"

  7. #67
    Maria

    Clare showed them where family and friends of the band usually watched - just off to the side in the wings, where they could still see and hear. Then she took her leave and headed for the other side, correctly assuming that Maria and Riff had things to talk about that they wouldn't want to share with a new acquaintance.

    Maria wasn't surprised to hear that Riff didn't have a fixed address. Most immortals didn't these days; she knew that she was lucky to have found a relatively stable situation. "It's okay," she replied. "What you've been doing is important."

    She brightened up significantly when Riff asked about a job at the school. That would keep him close. She liked that idea!

    "I'm sure I could get them to hire you," she said. "They're always looking for good workers. Staff don't tend to stay there very long. It's way out in the middle of nowhere, and it's kind of... bleak."

    It was hard to explain the school. Maria appreciated having a roof over her head. But the school itself... it wasn't exactly a homey and welcoming atmosphere.

    "It's not just the job," Maria said, hoping she could make him understand. "I could get a full-time job somewhere else. But the children. I can't just walk away. They don't have a lot of people in their lives who care. I desperately want to be with you. I've missed you so much. But if somehow I could do both..."

    She looked down at her hands, and added, "There's something else, too. You may think this sounds crazy. I'm probably just paranoid. But I'm worried. There have been strange men hanging around the school lately. They don't really talk to anyone, or pay attention to the kids. They just go down to the basement. There's nothing down there but a big old iron boiler that barely works anymore. I went down to check after they left one day, to see if I could figure out what they were up to - and I couldn't find anything. But I had a bad feeling. I just want to make sure everything is okay. Do you think maybe... that's something you could help with? You're good at helping people."
    Last edited by Monkey Kitty; 07-29-2019 at 06:29 PM.

  8. #68
    Paladin Quaxo9 is offline Quaxo9's Avatar
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    Riff

    That Maria wanted him there with her filled up his already overladen heart. He would take any job at that school at this point - just to be with her and Sofie. But her admission as to why she worked there? Riff drew her close and kissed her head. She was so good-hearted, his Maria, always looking out for those who couldn't look out for themselves.

    However, what she said next changed his perspective considerably. Riff grew thoughtful, if not almost serious, and took Maria's hand. Her encouragement brought the smile to his lips once more before he spoke.

    "You have a great heart and equally great instincts. If something doesn't smell right to you...well, there's something up. Of course I will come and help. Thank-you for believing in me. Together we can make sure those kids stay safe."

    The band started up and he settled back in his seat, listening, but not losing his focus on Maria. This would be his last stop with the band after all - he had almost hoped to stay on tour with them. He felt like he'd been through a lot with Declan and Clare already, even though they'd really just met. Connections could be funny that way. However, Riff didn't find himself feeling sad about the change in plan. After all, he had Maria and Sofie .... and he was pretty sure that the new friendships he'd begun weren't one-offs. He was certain they'd all be together again.
    Last edited by Quaxo9; 08-20-2019 at 07:37 PM.

  9. #69
    Maria

    She wasn't surprised that Riff believed her. He always did. He never treated Maria like she was silly or her feelings didn't matter, and she appreciated that more than she could say. This time, Maria hoped to be proven wrong. She would feel better if they checked things over at the school and everything turned out to be okay. Until then, she couldn't quite feel peace about it.

    "Thank you," she said. "Of course I believe in you. You deserve it. Thanks for believing in me, too. I love you."

    Maria rested her head on Riff's shoulder and twined her fingers through his as they listened to the rest of the concert. It felt so good to be together again, with Sofie by their side. Maria only hoped this lasted. That she never had to lose him again.

    When Riff suggested talking to Clare and Declan about what was happening at the school, Maria knew he was right... though it was daunting. If things turned out to be badly amiss, they would need all the help they could get. She had learned that back at their community, where everyone had helped each other. Those times were gone now, but Maria hadn't forgotten how much good a dose of caring could do.

    She had fully expected Clare and Declan to laugh. Riff had believed her because he was her boyfriend and he knew her. But these two were strangers. It felt bizarre and out of place to go up to them - especially to the man who had just been on stage in front of a crowd of cheering fans - and tell them that she had a gut feeling that something was wrong at the obscure boarding school where she worked.

    The reaction was not what Maria had expected. Clare exchanged a look with Declan, and when they turned back to her, their faces were grave.

    "That's... really not good," Clare said with a frown. "I'm a teacher. I spend a lot of time at schools too, and I know the rules. If there are strangers hanging around with no good reason, that's not okay. It could be a pretty serious problem. If the school officials aren't going to deal with it, I guess it's going to be us."

    "We're happy to help," Declan agreed.

    "Thank you," Maria said. Her eyes were misty at this unexpected outpouring of support. She had thought she would have to deal with the situation alone... but now three people had her back. "I can take you to the school and tell them I'm giving you a tour. Then you can look around and see if there's anything suspicious. The basement is where they were all going - that's what we need to figure out."

    The band had a few days of rest before their next show, so there was time. Getting to the school was easy enough - and getting in was also no problem. Security had always been lax, but the past few months it had been nonexistent. No one questioned the three extra people and dog arriving with her after the concert. In fact, the halls seemed deserted at such a late hour, with no one keeping watch.

    "So... this is it," Maria said, gesturing apologetically at the grim stone building that was her current home.
    Last edited by Monkey Kitty; 08-16-2019 at 09:40 PM.

  10. #70
    Paladin Quaxo9 is offline Quaxo9's Avatar
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    Riff

    As they drove further and further into the mountains, Riff was more and more thankful that he'd changed his mind about going to the school without Declan and Clare. If something was amiss, he'd far rather have reinforcements at his side than hours away. The less resistance they found, the more uneasy he became. Did no one care about the children here that they would let anyone just walk in? He lifted his nose to the air - and got what he figured he'd get - a lot of scents.

    "How many people are usually here, Maria? If I can sort out who belongs here, it will be easier to find and follow the scent of the ones that don't." he spoke in a hushed tone, not only for the sake of secrecy but also because the imposing building seemed to demand quiet.

    As they moved toward the basement, it would become clearer to Riff that some of the scents certainly didn't 'belong'. There weren't many adult males in the school population, for one, and the new scents tended toward testosterone. Before reaching the main stairwell, he had a good look around for surveillance cameras. He didn't trust the people who were coming here, therefore he wanted to be prepared.

    "Watch your step. They may have taken...precautions. We don't want to tip anyone off - or get ourselves in trouble."

    Not for the first time, Riff wished he could have asked Maria to wait somewhere safe, but it wouldn't have been right. This was her home - she invited him. Still, the small hairs rose up on the back of his neck and he hoped that his instincts were just overreacting.

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