Reignhart Changeling
This was not something Minnie did often - driving around aimlessly, without Joaquin or Dude, simply for the sake of driving. To be moving, to listen to her music as loudly as she'd like, to connect with some piece of herself that had always been there. Meandering through the county she'd grown up in, tucking the Subaru through streets familiar and strange, admiring people's houses. It was probably a little creepy of her, but she especially loved to pass houses that had their windows open, offering glimpses into the souls of those who lived within. She liked to see the furniture, the lighting, the color they chose for their walls. Watchful cats on the window sills, oversized televisions playing the news or a sitcom. What would these houses look like in a hundred years?

Now and then, she would glance at the clock on the car's dash, trying to stay mindful of the time. Joaquin didn't like letting her wander this way, she could sense it - he was a little like their mother in that fact, uneasy when he didn't know precisely where she was, a man who would probably be happy to be a helicopter brother for the rest of eternity. So she never stayed gone very long, lest his heart suddenly start beating again only to kill him for real.

An unspoken rule was to stay in the car. It went without saying that this was not the sort of trip that was meant to lead to mingling with the outside world. This was Minnie's Me Time, and there was nothing that could interrupt that.

Except, maybe, a flash of red hair fluttering through the night on some great expanse of lawn.

The Subaru slowed some, and Minerva peered through the darkness, taking a few seconds to believe her eyes. It was a great big beautiful property, with a house like a monolith, and there, dancing on the grass -

"Eirene!" she crowed through the rolled-down window, smiling broadly.
Eirene had sold five whole postcards today! She'd been quite close to securing a custom commission of a couple attending Splash Fest, but she had seen one half flirting outrageously with someone else during tubing after dark, and had opted to feed on the scoundrel instead.

The blood energized her walk home from the bus stop. A feeling of elation grew to a bursting point as she set foot on the lawn of her home which also housed a mansion. In an instant, shoes were unbuckled and slid off, art supplies cast aside, and she was running. Galloping. Sprinting. Spinning. Nothing but her, the stars under which she danced, and...

The Nymph!

She paused in an arabesque and beheld her friend, driving! It felt wrong to see her like this, like seeing a performer backstage. M...Minerva (that's it, though she preferred Nymph) should be in a creek somewhere, singing and laughing with the fishes. Perhaps she was on her way to do just that.

No she wasn't! For Eirene had imaginary tea!

A joyful wave of greeting, a curtsy. A brilliant smile. Then she was skipping over to the window.

"Hello Minerva-Nymph! Have you come to buy a castle?"

The houses around here were almost absurdly palatial.
Stopping mid-dance, Eirene looked like a music box figurine brought to life. Minnie's smile stretched. How was this person real? The ballerina waved, curtsied, floated over to the car, which felt like it didn't belong here. They were in some fantasy world where cars didn't exist!

The name, and the question, earned a laugh. Her foot squashed the brake pedal, but she was twisted over the center console, leaning towards the red-haired vampire at her window. To think, they'd almost lived out here, in that great big dilapidated mansion.

"Nooo, just looking for a great big yard to park an RV on," she teased in reply, expression crinkling facetiously. "Is this where you live?!"
Minerva was so bright. If the Sun ever deigned to visit Earth and got behind the wheel of a vehicle, Eirene imagined it would look something like this. Rather, she imagined her imagining, because in such a scenario she would be ash.

Imagine (again, imagine) if the Nymph did not jest, but made her nest in the neighborhood, they could be neighbors! They could idle outside graveyards, begging the dead to speak to them. They could drink tea without drinking tea. They could paint. They could capture moths and fireflies. They could hunt and feed and do laundry in a brook. Delightful.

She brought her arms up as though to rest on the ledge of the open car window, but did not make contact with it. Hovering, she beheld her dear friend with warmth and wide eyes.

"Would you like to see my home?"
Minerva was reminded of how strange the woman was, in the most delightful way. She loomed over the open window, arms aloft, and answered the question with another question. But it did serve as an answer! She smiled, hesitated, thoughtful. She should say no; she should stay in the car, and keep the conversation short, and make her merry way back home. But another glance at the dashboard clock assured her she still had time to spare, and she didn't want to say no. It would be disappointing for both the mermaid and the nymph.

So, her smile grew wider with her decision. "Of course!" Minnie straightened back some, bubbling with curiosity. "Where should I park?"
She wanted to tell her to drive the car into the backyard so she could cover it in spray paint and make it beautiful. Cars were inherently ugly things, but sunsets were a great help. But perhaps Minerva's mysterious sire would not like that, and she did not want to lose out on future visits from her friend due to his anger.

So she pointed to the winding drive, currently devoid of cars. The lady of the manor did not receive many visitors other than her nurses, and they and their vehicles departed at the end of the day. There was plenty of room, and no one awake to mind.

"Once you have parked, follow the path through the garden. Imagine there is a grand, wrought iron gate with a rusted lock. And here is the key." She offered a hand, holding nothing, to Minerva. It did not matter that there was no key for there was no gate. There was a garden full of roses, which was close enough.

Eirene stepped back from the car, then, and scampered off in the direction she had indicated without waiting for a reply from her friend. Red hair soon slipped out of sight through the side garden.
Her gaze followed Eirene's slender arm toward the driveway, then blinked back to her face at the instructions, then down to her hand opening around an imaginary key. Minnie grinned and giggled for it, swiping the invisible key from her palm, and then the woman was off, every bit a bird without wings. She wanted to be like that. So full of imagination that it radiated from her and lit up the darkness.

The Subaru rolled quietly up the drive, where she put it in park and shut it off. Pocketed her key, and her phone, and stepped along the path she'd seen the other vampire take. If Joaquin were here, perhaps he'd glamorize their vision with a gate like the one Eirene had described. Instead, the pavement opened unobstructed to the aforementioned garden. Thick bushels of dark leaves and fragrant rose blooms flanked the way, beautiful even in the low light.

Part of her envied this. She loved their little shack in the middle of nowhere, the work they were slowly putting into it, the life it was taking on. But... it was still an abandoned house, devoid of water and electricity. It paled in the face of this manor and its rich summer garden.

Minerva ushered herself forward, past the roses, down the far side of the path, eyes combing the dark for Eirene and her "house that moved."
Such a "house" was easily distinguishable in the darkness, even without their exceptional vision, for Eirene had taken advantage of her headstart to turn on strings of fairy lights (though she preferred to believe the fairies had done it for her). They twinkled between their fixed point on the roof of the camper van and a small patch of surrounding forest, this part of the grounds practically wild and unmanicured compared to the front. It was easy to see why the homeowner had chosen this spot for Eirene to park: the van was completely hidden from the road and virtually invisible during the day. This suited Eirene fine, for the trees provided an extra layer of shelter from the sun, on top of the van's thick blinds and drapes. At night, however, she fancied the woods and the entire grounds became hers.

The "house on wheels" was, of course, a camper van. Not such a new model, though lovingly spray painted.

Eirene was now standing amongst some plush patchwork throw pillows that could serve as seats in the grass. She clasped her hands in front of her body and waited. Waited to hear her friend's approval.
Minerva had built a wildly incorrect mental image of what the camper would look like; she imagined some borderline vintage Winnebago, but now that she had laid eyes on the painted van, that felt ridiculous. Of course Eirene would drive something like this, and the first sight of it earned a delighted laugh. The fairy lights and throw pillows, though, were the real show stopper. Like something out of pinterest, but better, it beckoned her.

"This is so cool," she praised, mindful not to be loud as she wandered closer. "Cool isn't... the right word." Eirene, the woman who spoke in poems, needed a better word, and she felt some threat of floundering for it. What was the right word!!! "I love it," she settled on, grinning toothily at the other vampire. What a way to smash stereotypes; the undead didn't need sprawling gothic mansions.
She loved it.

Eirene's smile stretched so wide she felt her face might split in two. This was the first time anyone had visited her Reignhart home. Even before her arrival in the county, visits were few and far between. Having this sweet, kind, lovely nymph felt like putting down a single root. Something that snaked from her heart, to the van, to the soil.

"I am not the best caretaker. Tragically, feeding from good mechanics does not make me a good mechanic." She heaved a dramatic sigh and faux-swooned against a tree trunk. Driving across the country did take its toll on the vehicles she'd had over the years. And the price of gas was absurd, even with well-timed suggestions to station attendants.

"But when I do need to replace my home I ensure the new one gets a proper makeover."
Eirene joked - or maybe, not-joked - about feeding from mechanics doing nothing for the state of her car-home, and Minerva laughed, if not mostly for the great swoon against the tree. No matter what, though, it was always going to be a custom dig, and she could appreciate that. There had been a time when her Subaru had been customized to some degree - cutesy bumper stickers, stuffed animals and dried flowers on the dash. All gone now, of course, for the sake of being inconspicuously dead.

"Oh! Speaking of which - I got your painting." Her voice softened even further, almost bashful. "Thank you for that. It's beautiful."
So she had found it after all. Eirene had begun to wonder if it had tumbled from its lodging in the tree and been lost to the creek's waters.

Minerva thought it was beautiful. Well, of course, it was, but she was always pleased to hear others saw it too. Besides, the subject of the painting admitting its beauty meant they recognized the beauty in themselves, which she appreciated. Beauty revealed beauty revealed beauty.

The shyness compelled her further. This creature should be told she was beautiful. Every hour, ideally. It should not cause discomfort.

"I am pleased it found its way to you. A smelly fox boy helped tremendously by posing." She let her body fold from the tree trunk to one of the throw pillows and drew her legs under her body.

"Have you put it up some place?"
Smelly fox boy. Minerva smiled some, sheepish still, and joined Eirene in sitting on pillows. It was like a glamping trip! That also felt like a subpar description.

"I did. It's hanging in my bedroom." She liked the idea that this might give; that she had a room with a bed and a dresser and a proper closet, shelves with trinkets and books, and a painting to tie it all together. The painting and a duffel bag were the only things that room held, so far. Making all of her furniture out of metal was an idea, but not one she particularly liked. "And I met your model, in the woods. He recognized me as "the nymph."" That part earned another laugh, tickled. How he'd gleaned her from the painting was beyond Minerva.
Her eyes lit up. What a strange, small world!

"Perhaps through your dancing, if you were dancing--which in my opinion, you should be. Or maybe nymphs have a particular smell that translates through canvas? Your painted self contained the essence of you. You are a nymph, so it is correct that he should recognize you as one."

She adored that the painting was hanging in Minerva's bedroom. It wasn't often she met recipients of her art a second time. Not because she killed them, mind, but because she moved on. It is important to note she was not leaving a trail of artistically-ended corpses in her road trip wake.

"You are far from where we first met. Does this mean you're comfortable venturing further from home?" The time as a young nightdancer was trying. It became hard for even Eirene to paint those months with a beautiful brush. Stepping out beyond the safety of a darkened room, or a remote field...that was good. It showed progress.
Eirene had whimsical theories about how Waylin might have put two and two together, all of them delightful nonsense. It earned a giggle, and a playful shrug of her shoulders. Smelly fox secrets, perhaps.

For the question, she tilted her head just so, visibly thoughtful as she considered how to convey her comfort level. "Well. A little bit. Every now and then I just like to drive around, but I never get out of the car." A grin, then. "Unless I see someone I know dancing in their yard."
For a moment, Eirene's lower lip jutted out into a pout. Were there other nightdancers more interesting than she who had captured the nymph's attention? She wanted everyone to dance in their yards, of course, as long as she was best one.

After some mental cartwheels, she came to understand the joke. Pout turned upwards into a tentative smile. "I am glad you stopped for me."

"Would you tell me all about your week?" Real, imagined, she didn't mind. While awaiting the stories, she moved to the van and unearthed a cedar box, from which she extracted two ornate cups and a teapot before returning to settle across from Minerva.
It was a sharp, but brief roller coaster - Eirene looked upset, and then very suddenly did not anymore, fixing her with a little smile, and appreciation. Minnie, whose eyebrows had risen some in confusion-concern, smiled in turn, and laughed.

Her week. Minnie looked back at it, so to speak, and found it mostly uneventful. Feeding, painting, identifying noxious weeds from the little book she'd found in a field. She watched the redhead float to her van, half-way distracted by watching her pulling out a tea set, of all things. How curious. What would she do with it, she wondered!

"Um, well. I met a second fox man, and I learned that we smell bad to them." She wrinkled her nose with another smile, amused for all it was a little saddening still. "And my beeuh--sire has been trying to teach me how to do the." She gestured loosely with both hands, as if she might catch the thought midair like a bug. "Mind... swaying, thing." Her smile turned awkward here. It had a more technical term, but it escaped her, and mind control was an unpleasant phrase.
It was awfully droll of the fox man to suggest they smelled untoward. Eirene happened to know they both smelled exceptional, whereas fox man no doubt carried the odious aroma of wet laundry that had been bunched up in the back of the machine for days on end. Bad. Was he even old enough to have fully developed nose? Eirene's was over ninety; she knew smells.

She was also the wrong person to provide a technical term.

"Mind dance is how I like to think of it. You're just leading someone in the steps for a while, then you dip and twirl them away. How was it for you?" It was so nice to phrase it in such a manner. Much more elegant.

Eirene started carefully pouring the tea (which was not, in fact, anything) out of the teapot and into the dainty little cups.
Mind dance. Minnie's eyes lit up for such a choice phrase. It did make it sound so much prettier. Especially if she could hone it gently, instead of being a monster armed with a mind-twisting weapon. She liked to think that was how Eirene was, too, with people, so easily forgetting - willfully, perhaps - how she'd casually mentioned wanting to rip a vampire's bird wings off! It was probably just another poem, anyway.

She watched the teapot tilt delicately in the other woman's hands, and smiled wide for it. Two grown adults (technically) playing pretend?! Imaginary tea party? It was so, so unusual, and she loved it so much, something inside her clenched over it. She wanted Joaquin to meet her. She wanted them to be friends.

A thought for another time.

"I am... very, very bad at it," she confessed, but it was with a laugh. It wasn't a point of stress for her, given Joaquin's superior ability over the dance, and she had hope that she would figure out whatever it was she was doing wrong and then be very good at it. "I haven't had any success, so far. My mind dancing has two left feet."
Eirene considered the reasons for Minerva's struggles. Youth. The freshness of her abilities. Lack of confidence, perhaps?

Moreso than anything, she suspected it was because this kind, gentle soul was uncomfortable leading anyone else in a dance. Which was very sweet, but needed remedying.

She handed over one of the empty (or full, depending on your perspective) teacups, eyes sparkling as she settled on an idea.

"Try it on me. Practice, practice, practice. You need to know how it feels when everything goes as it should." Diving off a cliff's edge into the ocean was far less daunting the second time around.
Eirene looked at her like she was assessing a canvas rather than a person, thoughtful, and then handed her one of the ornate tea cups. Minnie took it with a small smile, some mix of playful and grateful, and held it gingerly, one pinkie out. How could she not?

The suggestion (not the mind-dance one, ha) took her gently by surprise, and her eyebrows rose some for it. Thoughtful! But intimidating! Her smile rolled some, thinned by a hint of embarrassment, where a human would blush. "Oh! Okay. Well." A moment of silence, and she gazed down at her invisible tea, as if the leaves in the bottom would give her any idea. "What..." A pause then, feeling herself oozing that lack of confidence, the sort of thing that Joaquin would poke at in correction. She sat up a little straighter, and looked Eirene in the eye, her expression timid even as she tried to carry herself a little taller, so to speak.

"Fix your hair in a braid," she tried, and felt what she felt every time - nothing!
The eye contact was met. A smile both confident and comforting was offered, as though ease could be transmitted and shared through expressions.

Minerva was trying to compensate by sitting up straighter, by taking up more space. Even though, seated, they were the same height, she still gave the impression of someone staring up at a very tall building. Eirene so desperately wanted to give them both wings.

She was excited, even thrilled, at the idea of being led. She had never been in this situation before. It never once occurred to her that Minerva might break this trust.

The command was good--wonderful, even. What a fantastic idea, to fix her hair in a braid! A braid would look exceptional with her current attire! It was such a good notion that Eirene found herself reaching up to fulfill the wish, but then she halted her hands' actions. For it was her desire, not the nymph's, that was seeing this through. The dance hadn't worked.

Why on Earth not? Her mouth curled into another pout, disappointed for them both.
She felt nothing, and yet - Eirene's hands moved toward the red ocean of her hair! Minnie felt a spike of surprise, and confusion; it had worked, and she'd felt... nothing? Not that squeeze that Joaquin had mentioned, no tingle, no click.

And then, the woman's hands stopped, and Minnie considered her with gently widened eyes, realizing at probably the same time that no, it had not worked. It offered some clarity to the same old feeling of nothing in her brain, at least. Still, she laughed a little, even as Eirene frowned at her. How funny that the woman had started to do it anyways!

"It'll happen when it's meant to," she decided, ever optimistic, even if it remained gently disappointing. Was she bad at being a vampire? Chin up, girl. "I can braid your hair for you instead!"
Minerva didn't seem nearly as peevish as Eirene was about the failure. When she wanted to be led, why on Earth couldn't she be led? And now here came the nymph offering to fulfill the order herself. It was a kindness and a sweetness and an optimism that compelled Eirene to protect her. But it was imperative that she understand what leading felt like, and soon.

All the same, her hair could use a lovely braid, so she nodded with a smile and wriggled forward to meet Minerva on the grass, then reclined back onto her elbows. Her mass of red hair (and there was a lot of it) was fully accessible.

"Have you ever been led?"
It had been a way to keep things light, and Eirene remained so unpredictable that she couldn't know if the woman would throw herself into Minnie's lap or pout further for such an idea. It wound up being somewhere in between, and Minnie would also scoot a little closer, cradling her fancy tea cup in her lap so that her hands might be free to work.

"I have," she sighed, pulling the sea of curls into one great wave, and then combing them with gentle purpose into three sections. "I'm sure there are lots of times I don't remember." She'd had a knack for finding trouble, it seemed, too stupid to stay indoors after dark. "The first time was very cruel. And then he couldn't wipe my memory, so he threatened me. But I never saw him again." Not that she knew of, although she was sure she'd have run away on sight.
"If you find him, tell me. We will unmake him."

Her voice was expressionless. An emotional reaction did not factor into her response. It was simply fact. Someone had been cruel to the Nymph. Therefore someone would receive cruelty tenfold. And the Nymph would learn to administer it without losing her soft innocence. And the balance would be exceptional and perfect.

Eirene let her eyes close, practically purring under the skilled pampering.
Unmake him. There it was again, that flash of a woman who'd wanted to pull the wings from a bird. Such casual violence. Minnie leaned instead into the root of it, a friend hurt on behalf of a friend. Anyone could flash their teeth for someone they loved, couldn't they? Could Minnie?

She hummed a quite sound, bordering on a giggle, and nodded for all the other woman wouldn't see it. That would be her answer to her demand, and then she would move on. "Have you ever been... led?" Turning the question back on Eirene, pinching locks of hair tediously between her fingers, folding them over one another, pulling finer strands out at random points to bring the creation into a fishtail braid.
"I am almost certain of it. When I was a new night dancer, I was encouraged to stay away from certain territories. Ordered to behave in certain ways. Forget certain other dancers I met. Not draw attention to myself. My first months were less chaotic than what most dancers face. Less chaotic. More caged."

Poor little lost bird. Turned in the middle of a music festival, abandoned by her sire, chained neatly in crystal by all dancers unfortunate enough to cross paths with her. She had rebelled against their restrictions the moment she was free. Now she traveled where she wished.
Almost certain - really, Minerva figured Eirene was completely certain. Sixty-ish years of undeath had probably shown her plenty of the signs. Minnie liked to think that being a vampire herself would help her know if she'd been suggested. (Ha.)

She had been given rules that, frankly, did not seem to suit her. Things that she would not do of her own free will, especially for having been told to do so. Eirene was a bird even if she could not turn into one, keen to take flight wherever she pleased for whatever reason. This seemed obvious, maybe to anyone who would cross paths with her; she was strange in such a lovely way, not tethered by the thoughts or feelings of other people. It made sense that she should understand that she had been, well, caged.

Was Minerva caged? The thought crept up on her so suddenly, that for a moment, she would fall silent. Braiding diligently, but without seeing, looking through her own thoughts. Living in an abandoned house, with no company beyond Joaquin, Dude, and a nightly meal. And, of course, the lucky encounter with Eirene. Fake names, wiped memories, places to stay away from, curfews. She had never thought of it that way. She didn't like thinking of it that way.

"Freedom suits you," she thought to say after a few moments, trying to wave the smoke out of her own head.
"Perhaps they did it to keep me neat and tidy. Perhaps to keep me safe."

Eirene tilted her head, not enough to disrupt Minerva's work, and wondered if she could think well of the faceless ones who had caged her. Decided the pondering was too difficult, and moved on.

"I know myself better now. It's easier to see yourself when you're not in a cage. You know they put covers over birds' cages at night to make them sleep. Keep them calm..."

She nuzzled backward into the braid. There were far better ways to calm someone. Like braiding their hair!
Neat, tidy, safe. Yes. Eirene didn't sound especially sold on the thought of it for her own part, but Minnie grabbed it like a passing life raft in rough water. Joaquin could be frightening, grim, anxious. She was learning what to keep from him, whether for his sake or her own. But he sought to keep her safe, and she could believe that, even if his methods sometimes left things to be desired.

Her gaze fluttered back to the growing red rope in her hands, re-focusing as Eirene continued. Minnie did not particularly know herself, but that had been the case for a while now. Sometimes, she'd find some idea, and chase it down - artist, cop, vampire! - and still wind up back where she'd started, water in a glass, waiting to take the shape of the next container.

She smiled some at Eirene's wriggling head, feeling some sense of joy for her. Her contentedness was soothing. "Do you think you'll be very different in another sixty years?" she asked, winding one strand of hair gingerly at the bottom of the great braid to tie it in place.
"I hope so. It would mean I've met and loved many. Grown with them. It would mean I've traveled all sorts of places--or flown." She twisted just enough to look back at Minerva with an impish sparkle. Sixty years seemed more than enough time in which to grow wings.

"There must be some sparkling perfect middle land where we grow and change while keeping who we are in our apple cores..." she mused, never having really considered it. "Do you like this unlife, Minerva?"
If anyone could achieve such a goal, surely it was Eirene. Free to dance and flow as she liked, wherever her home on wheels would take her, and probably farther still. She knew herself, after all - why couldn’t she find that magical apple core land?

Minnie giggled, and paused to consider the question, gently draping the heavy braid over Eirene’s shoulder.

"It depends on the night," the nymph decided after a moment. "I’m in a different world now than I used to be. There’s so much room to learn and discover. Explore. But it’s… scary, sometimes, too. I get angry more than I used to, and it’s dangerous. I miss the sunshine. And." She laughed some at the coming thought. "I was a vegetarian, you know. The diet change is still strange sometimes."
Minerva had been a vegetarian who loved the sunshine and didn't like getting angry. Suddenly Eirene wanted to rip the moon out of the sky and put the sun in its place. Build a shield to protect them. A parasol of incredible strength so they both could move around in the bright rays with no danger. It felt cruel to deprive the nymph of her sun. And why should she not have it?

The braid was finished and draped over Eirene's shoulder. She took it lovingly in her hands and admired the skill.

"Beautiful." The highest compliment she knew how to give.

"It is walk safely in the sun." Eirene couldn't offer any words of comfort on the diet. It just...was. And the anger could fuel. She liked it, in a strange way. The ugly emotions that snaked in, sudden and unbidden, reminded her of being human.
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