The Seanchaí Collection Meet Me Inside Said the Spider to the Fly
An auspicious day for the Seanchai Collection. Elena sat with her ankles crossed and knees laid to the side on the bench just outside the doors. She had hoped to intercept Billy and lead him through to Catrina waiting on the other side.

Would the man feel a slight bout of nerves as he walked up? Elena could not pin down her imagination into a decided path and so she let it wander with the breeze.

Her mind might be pleasantly drifting but her senses were alight. She could feel Catrina inside, perhaps sitting at a long oak table or walking down a row of the library feigning disinterest. Somewhere in the opposite direction, she would soon feel Billy. Likely prompt in his arrival and dressed well enough to impress but not so much to distract.

Much like a spectator to a play, Elena was positioned in the middle and anticipating the two actors arriving from stage left and right. She had not been lying when days ago to Billy she confessed to having a deep desire to see these two meet. And now they were. Her God was generous when she asked graciously.

outfit sans shades

Agonized was, hmm, a dramatic overstatement. It hadn't caused him any pain, emotional turmoil, merely proven a subject for careful consideration. Initial impulse was the tried and true black on white, but it struck as somewhat, oh, boring. He'd met the domina before and so needn't concern himself with first impressions, but rather must display a certain appeal. A manicured presentation to suggest her social engagements would be more interesting and enjoyable were he involved.

So it was Billy found himself making the short jaunt from vehicle to front door, adorned in dark and rich shades of indigo and violet. Something memorable without being garishly eye-catching.

Quite apart from the anticipation of seeing Elena again and faint anxiety over how he might be received by Catrina, he was eager to see the interior of the building. Museums and their ilk were, perhaps stereotypically, a great draw for him. The history of them and modern perception of that history were unrelentingly fascinating. Yet he'd never treated himself to a visit here, as it had seemed a touch gauche to parade himself around after electing not to join. Hopefully by now enough time had passed that it was no matter.

Oh, and here was the first of the lovely ladies he was to see tonight. The one for whom his fondness went undiluted by power dynamics and disquieting uncertainty. No, time with Elena had been pleasant yet scarce enough that she evoked only delighted uncertainty.

"Oh heavens, a divinely mythical guardian at the gates," he offered as greeting, expression all shock and awe beyond the crinkling near his eyes. "Must I solve a riddle to gain entry? How might I win your favor?"

Then again, dramatic overstatement were at times Billy's merry standard.
Billy never let her ruminate long. If she was not careful, Elena would never have a wandering thought again. He appeared dressed well and had a quip ready on his lips. This would go splendidly, Elena decided. For all the seriousness of vampires, they truly were a very dramatic bunch.

She stood, taking a few steps toward Billy but remaining under the main awning. Her hand outstretched to receive him and beckon him into the building. "Do you want a riddle?" Laughter came easily, as it always did with him. "You have nothing more to prove to me, but I can take the role of the sphinx to add some whimsy before the real power."

Undoubtedly, Catrina knew they were loitering outside. However, the Domina had shown no sense of urgency and had been content to preside over her small kingdom of tomes and talismans. Elena could remain outside for Billy if he needed. For when they did venture inside, Elena would quiet her voice and let the other two perform their play.
Though he kept his motions easy and languid—a ponderosity long practiced to keep up all public appearance of the feebleness of age—it was with some eagerness that Billy took her offered hand. A brief kiss, the graze of lips across her knuckles, and he grinned for her laughter. There was no immediate release, the man quite content to stand just beneath the mercifully unneeded sunshade, cradling her fingers with his own until such time as she withdrew.

"Oh," he began in his predictable way, "I've, to date, been immeasurably delighted by everything you've provided. I don't expect this to change soon, so please. If you would."

He did think himself a clever fellow, and had fair confidence he'd be able to solve any diverting little word puzzle in short enough order to avoid embarrassing himself. As well, of course, he was simply pleased to spend a little more time in Elena's presence before facing an encounter he... expected would go well, but undoubtedly held higher stakes and danger should it not. A willingness to respectfully meet domini within there own territory had been demonstrated several times, but not for a moment could he forget he was laying his existence at their feet in doing so.

And something in Elena's phrasing, "before the real power," had led him to suspect... Well, such flattery would be quite wasted were Catrina not near enough to overhear. It was indeed unwise to ever consider ones words beyond the reach of a domina's ears whilst stood on her doorstep. Elena, he continued to believe, was terribly clever herself.
When he finally released her hand, Elena's eyes crinkled at the corner. Billy teased the balance between chivalric and coquettish. She had begun to think it was his default.

And delighted by her! Large shoes to occupy for the rest of their relationship. Billy had been most generous so far with his contributions, namely their midnight flight – an excursion well worth repeating. So, a riddle for her fidus Achates. Elena would readily comply. "A favorite of mine, then." She looked upward, recalling the words. There were others in her mother tongue that she could easily recite, but they did not translate well.

For all Billy's manners and pose, it was his words that left a lasting impression. Therefore, she knew just the one to ask. Primly, she set her smile to one more neutral. Preparing to give nothing away as she let the syllables bounce. "I am a word, who is hardly there. Remove my start, and I am an herbal flair. Tell me, what am I?"
Smiling genteelly, he waited and listened. There was a shrewd eye cast toward her features, because Billy was not above... Well, it wasn't cheating really. Simply making full use of all the information at his disposal, which included any indeliberate hints he might glean from expressions. Little twitches on certain words, things of this nature.

But she gave no such clue and he was left to briefly ruminate, attempting to commit the precise phrasing to memory. A word hardly there. Perhaps something spelled quite similarly? But removing the start, this could be erasing the first letter, or perhaps full syllable. An herbal flair, though, hmm. It put him in mind of something floral or otherwise fragrant and botanical. Which in turn turned his thoughts to Bernadette. Hmm, hmm...

For several seconds he stood and pondered in unmoving silence. The herbal flair seemed the key, a starting point from which to sort of reverse engineer this. Petal and flower both quickly proved dead ends, no word ending in those sounds coming to mind which might qualify as "hardly there." Hmm. Bother; his ego had rather hoped he'd suss the solution straightaway.

This was, he comforted himself, likely a better experience for Elena. "Hmm," he finally gave a careful little grunt, tucking one hand beneath the opposite elbow as he pressed a knuckle to his mouth and furrowed his already well creased brow, as though any of that might actually assist.

A word who is hardly there. Was there some significance to the personhood the riddle initially ascribed itself? This might prove a better activity whilst seated comfortably at home; he felt quite on the spot standing here, things beginning to seem as though each second that ticked by without an answer carried him that much further from securing any meaningful position within the clutch.

Oh, Billy. What have you done to yourself? "Hmm," was repeated, with marginally increased despair.
Fingers rose to make a patchwork against her lips. A poor barrier to hide Elena's growing mirth.

She had stumped him! Oh, happy night. The answer had been simple enough that she had worried the riddle would prove a meager brain teaser, too juvenile for Billy to spend more than an iota of time in contemplation. A swift response – she had expected as Billy did look the type to enjoy a crossword with a ballpoint pen, licking the nib out of habit before solving a 10-letter for 'Irish strike.'

He would find the solution soon, Elena was confident. She pressed her fingers harder to her mouth, lips sucking in to keep mum. It would do Billy no service for laughter to interrupt his deep thought.

10-letter for 'Irish strike'

Motion, scant as it was, did lift his gaze from where consternation had dropped it to the darkened concrete. And what he saw drew a chastening tut from previously tightened lips.

"Laughing at me again," he sighed through a deeply twinkling look. She wasn't laughing, technically, but he could read the signs, and was gratified to know his assumption how this would tickle her had been correct. "Such a bully, Elena."

Resuming his previous posture, the single pensive finger before his lips proved equally inadequate at concealing the smile there. So bolstered, he set about more methodically examining the puzzle.

Herbal flair. Still the crux, surely. General, hmm, botany terms had failed him, but perhaps something more specific? Basil. Basalt? No, no, Billy, that was adding to the wrong end. Well, nothing at all came to mind that ended in -basil, save basil itself.

Rosemary? Goodness, no. Cumin? Hmm, no, that was more a spice. Cilantro? This was beginning to seem a dead end. How dispiriting. Parsley? No there was nothing that-

Hold on.

It was plainly visible in the sudden widening of his eyes, a sharp little intake of breath, that he'd stumbled onto it. The snapping fingers helped as well.

"Parseley," he declared confidently, before amending, "Ah, that is, sparsely."
He was such a visual thinker. Elena could practically see the train of thought make multiple stops before racing to its final destination.

Caught in the act of silent laughter, Elena found it impossible to shift her face back to demure coolness. She let her hands fall and openly accepted her penance. A bully. She would have to agree. For all her confessions to God and priests of the past, Elena could never repent enough to shed the last sliver of a mean streak. As stubborn as a younger sister, it refused to leave her and her one saving grace was Elena was deeply aware of it. Interesting that it came out often with Billy. A level of comfort so quickly achieved.

She said nothing to his tutting, although the twist of a smirk would not go unnoticed. No, Elena kept her silence so as not to distract the man on the precipice of the answer.

Perhaps a trick of the archway light, but she could almost clock the second his pupils expanded and the world opened up. Billy had done it. Solved her riddle in mere moments. Impressive enough to pass through this guard.

"Well done." She clasped her hands together, shaking them softly in a raised 'hurrah.' "You have shown worthiness to enter"

Elena dropped one hand but let the other hook on her hip, offering Billy the opportunity to link it with his own and lead them both inside. One eyebrow raised with a smile to match as if to say 'shall we?'
Elena's propensity for subtle self-control was admirable. She could be eminently proper or devilishly subversive, vacillating between the two as she saw fit. As the situation warranted. And perhaps it was only fortunate happenstance that her estimation of those situations cleaved quite closely to his own. Or perhaps she was very good at, hmm, reading the room as it were.

Something that wouldn't occur to him in the moment was that, almost-but-not-precisely-hypocritically, this ability was nearly the reverse of the qualities he found so delightful in Grace. She had quite the, oh, bull in a china shop energy, and very rarely did he find this the least troubling outside those moments it put her in direct peril. A difference in his expectations, most probably, between the very young and... well, those more like him.

In any event, he was everything charmed and diverted by Elena's demurely animated congratulations, and smiled broadly for the offered accompaniment. Unlikely to ever deny himself her consensual embrace, Billy was only too happy to loop his arm through hers. Temptation held strong to display such boldness as to lay his other hand over hers where it rested at her hip. In a different setting he'd have likely done, but just now he was entering an objectively dangerous parlor. Best give it his full attention and do nothing that might even give the impression of untowardness.

But he smiled still as they jointly stepped inside, believing well enough an evident fondness for the company of one of her own would not harm his prospects of striking up cordiality with Catrina. It could very well endear him, but that was difficult to say. One must wait and see.
It was nigh impossible for her to not have known both Elena and a guest were all but at the Collection’s door. At yet they doddled, perplexing, but perhaps there was conversation to have. Making herself as busy as one could when attention was all but elsewhere, the eventual clicking of the front door opening found Catrina rising from her desk chair and exiting the office.

A quick walk down the hall and soon she’d be upon them with a bright smile for familiar faces, hardly missing the linked arms. It had been a moment since William graced her sights and quite the opposite for Elena. Perhaps after tonight, they’d be well on the path to having them both be as familiar to these halls as the other.

”Good evening to you both. You’re looking quite well this evening,,” she spoke warmly, walking further in.
As predicted, Catrina was at the front, ready and waiting to receive them. As aloof as the Domina appeared gliding in, Elena hoped the interest she spied was not her own imagination. Embroidered with positivity Elena pulled forward slightly, perhaps taking Billy a step closer than he may have wished. Her empty hand crossed over her body to pat lightly at Billy's upper arm.

"Yes, a good night for old friends and new ones." A final pat before she extracted her arm and dipped her head slightly. " Catrina, allow me to introduce you once again to Mister William Martin."

Elena can be skippable after this unless directly spoken to.

While the confirmed, tangible presence of a much more powerful immortal could hardly be labeled a comfort, from the clicking of her heels on the hard floor to the melodious greeting she offered, Catrina's appearance before him did go some way toward reminding Billy he'd only ever gotten on famously with her. Not quite to the degree he did with Elena, but power dynamics being what they were that was probably, hmm, for the best.

And blessed Elena, speaking of, lending her voice to the ease of proceedings. The old man was provided no need to fake or force the smile that remained as he dipped his head low—lower than Elena's respectful display by his own design, watching her from the corner of his eye—in salutation.

"Domina," he acknowledged first and foremost. "Enchanting to see you again. Thank you for your kind acceptance to meet." A careful balance; respect and gratitude, but no attempt to grab hold of the reins and guide the conversation. She was undeniably stronger than when last they'd met, and he meant to have a better feel for how she'd wield that power before taking even the most minor risk.
The familiarity in the gesture was as amusing as it was a positive sign.

Elena went so far as to formally introduce him and William followed through in a way she hadn’t exactly seen in quite some time from others. It was refreshing and Catrina brightened for it, pleased as punch by the two and also, fond of such an action.

She dipped her head in response before stepping closer to the two. ”Of course, I couldn’t turn down the opportunity, especially after hearing only Elena’s praises.”

A kind look was sent the woman’s way, a tad of mischief playing under the surface too in light tease.

”I hear you have much you wish to discuss. Would you like to come get comfortable?”
Elena's praises. While William couldn't quite say it hadn't crossed his mind that she'd provide otherwise—he did like to leave room for people to disappoint him—it was true enough that this kindness fell in line with expectations. He'd have liked to send his newest friend a sidelong look of affection and thanks, but instead only smiled demurely at the polished floor.

Too much familiarity, too flagrant a friendly gaze, might conjure in the domina concerns of conspiracy. A dangerous alliance which might rise against her if permitted to flourish unchecked. Such were the considerations he must allow as he waited patiently to develop a keener understanding of Catrina and her approach to power and leadership. Perhaps some night he could do away with such performative concerns and behave only genuinely.

But it would not be this night.

"That'd be lovely," he accepted, ready to follow wherever she might lead. There was little call to delay, however, the three of them ably capable of conversing whilst they walked.

"Please let me begin with an apologetic explanation of sorts. I know it's been some time since we last spoke, since the misfortunate occurrences regarding my last membership. Given the revelation of how foolishly misbegotten my decisions there had been, I thought it best to take some time to reevaluate my priorities and discernment. Moreover, I didn't wish to do you the disservice of giving the appearance that I regarded your clutch as, oh, a rebound."
With agreement, she’d lead them to her office down the hall. It seemed that from what she understood of the man, he would flourish better in a formal yet relaxed setting for the time being. Perhaps, in the future they could simply sit upon the couches or stand amongst the many shelves for discussion outside of the room.

As they walked, an apology was offered up unbidden and she looked to him curiously. It had been some time and he had joined the other clutch, simply confirmed from his statement. Yuna’s then. Unfortunate. But, it had given him a chance to reevaluate what he exactly wanted.

A rebound! The term pulled up her brows some, a soft laugh playing against lips, but not allowed to be given voice. It was a fair concern and she appreciated him addressing the potential elephant in the room. ”It has been some time,” she agreed, heels clicking against the wood that ever so often creaked just so as an old building tended to do. ”And while I had hoped things would have turned out differently, I hardly find myself thinking ill of you and in fact, am relieved you felt comfortable in reaching out.” And certainly, she was deeply curious to hear what he had learned, just how Yuna’s clutch had been, but that was not the current conversation and with due time, may just come out later.
Catrina was everything accommodating and magnanimous, as he'd hoped but not quite dared expect. William was, in truth, overstating any need for apology; he'd owed the domina nothing when electing to aid in forming a new clutch rather than joining the rank and file of hers. However, dealing with other immortals—leaders particularly—was a constant game of managing egos, and this he believed he excelled in. It helped that he was himself largely devoid of the vice of vanity.

And blithely brushed aside how his falling out with a one-time ducissa seemed starkly to disprove this.

A further head dip and broadening smile accompanied his thanks for her generosity. "Too kind by far," he schmoozed genteely. "I confess I had found myself quite seduced at the prospect of being a founding member of a new little clutch. I'd never done, and you know how novel experiences become all the rarer and more precious as time drags us along."

Clicking his tongue softly, the old man chided himself. "Foolhardy, as it turned out. I'm much consoled to have escaped with your good opinion yet intact." And that likely would quite do. A healthy dose of self flagellation to forestall any external repercussions. But don't lay it on too thickly, old boy, or risk growing cloying.

As well they seemed near their destination, and talk could turn more directly to the future rather than the past.
Ah, now there was the reasoning and further confirmation as to where he’d scuttled towards. She knew all too well just how the experience shone brightly when considering options nad finding yourself among like minded. It would be entirely hypocritical for Catrina to find fault in his choice whereas she had done so herself, despite the rebuff of his actions affecting her. Still, he’d seen it to the end and found himself upon her steps all the same.

”And yet, another chapter to add in your colorful life.”

Upon the door, she opened it, stepping aside to allow the two in.

”I do find myself vastly curious as to how you found the experience of founding a clutch. Was it everything you imagined,” she asked, sincerely wanting to know as to how the man would portray it all.
Oh, a charmingly appointed little office, big enough for a vampiric ego but not audaciously taking up an inordinate amount of valuable museum space. Billy was sufficiently self-aware to recognize he was inclined to think so regardless of how well it actually coincided with his own tastes. He did quite fervently wish to belong here, to find something more than disappointment. A conclusion that this wasn't only a means to an end, but a place he could both find and provide enrichment.

At the very least every surface wasn't covered in the same garrishly saturated shade of scarlet. That was promising.

"Heavens, no," he half chuckled in that way one did when a situation turned dismal with such sudden absurdity one could not but laugh. Very dramatic. "No, I'm afraid Yuna proved..."

Here he paused, frowning thoughtfully, and took the opportunity to settle into whichever chair seemed appropriate. Only, dear reader, on the strict assumption both ladies had already done so as well. Indeed he'd have rather liked to cradle Elena's hand in his own once more, guiding her to whatever seat she fancied in that unnecessary and slightly overblown fashion he liked to take with her. As early as their first meeting she'd expressed fondness for old-world sensibilities, and he'd since taken it as license to lean that little bit harder into his own dramatic flair.

Yet he was still being mindful of not presenting an untoward attachment before the domina, so it was an impulse he'd be forced to snuff. Pity.

"I don't wish to impugn the dead," came the polite and hollow preface, "but it became abundantly apparent by the end that she was interested only in having nameless bodies to fill the ranks. Yuna possessed neither the wit nor the will to lead, but quite dearly wished the prestige of a title." Shifting, he laid one knee over the other and laced his fingers atop.

"While I yet believe my hasty departure had no direct connection to her subsequent disappearance and the collapse of the clutch, both arose as symptoms of the same disease. Namely Yuna's imprudent incompetence." Billy clicked his tongue before letting his head shake with greater sadness than he felt.

"Short-sighted immortals; such a tragic contradiction."
Once inside, she’d shut the door with a soft click, surprise and attention upon him at the laugh. Waving towards whatever seating arrangement they found to their liking, Catrina would find her own away from the desk, preferring to not have such a piece of furniture between them all at the moment.

Oh dear, such a heartless take to a clutch creation and undoubtedly huge oversight. Such short-minded decisions upon who joined and becoming blinded by ambitions would simply lead to the clutch eating itself from the inside out, it was only a matter of time, and, well here they were.

”An unfortunate reality at times. I am sorry that it went poorly,” she truly sympathized. To have one's home to just upend into a dramatic sinking, well, it was disastrous, especially after such hopes. And while Catrina had her own thoughts upon Yuna, this was hardly the time or place. Let the dead be dead unless talking of her was needed.

”It seems your instinct to leave was well timed and perhaps, offered you a perspective onto what you’re truly looking for in a clutch moving forward?”
Sympathy which at least seemed sufficiently sincere. Billy didn't pretend to have either the supernatural intuition nor a level of familiarity with the domina to say conclusively how genuine she was being here. But he also wasn't one to turn his nose up at polite words with little substance behind. She remained accommodating and genteel, and that was more than enough.

And a prompt to further explain himself, his interest in joining her ranks. Canny; he already knew what value he brought to the table, as did they all. But still he must sell himself as not only an asset to a clutch, but to this one in particular. Catrina demonstrating that she was not interested in nameless bodies mindlessly inflating the veneer of prestige agree commanded.

"Ah," he began, smiling down at his linked fingers as if embarrassed by his next words. "Cards on the table, I've never quite gotten over your portrayal of this collective back when I'd first inquired. Learning and progress, I think you'd laid out as pillars of your community. Something of the sort. And a commendation for those you'd accepted as, oh, delightfully affable."

Here he did twist about somewhat to lay his gaze across the woman who'd met him outside. "The lady Elena has quite handily corroborated the latter." Billy turned back to Catrina. "And I remain amply enthralled by the promise of the former. I'd always had in mind I'd fit in well and find some satisfaction here, just regrettably led myself astray with other pursuits."

There were further considerations, but he didn't wish to steamroll. And none of them would be relevant if he was found, hmm, lacking already.
It was more of an answer than she expected, as was him remembering so much of their conversation. Catrina nodded in assurance to his memory of the pillars. That was correct. That he found himself fond and resonating with the themes of her clutch was certainly pleasing and she would be happy to report these had not strayed from that day. That Elena’s meeting with him had confirmed the character of the vampires as well was certainly a delightful highlight. There was no bending of the truth and much of that had to do with the character of the vampires in the clutch as well as the work put into it. Rhiannon was flourishing in its promises to its members because of those tending to it with every hand, wing flutter, and paw print.

In total, he was looking for an environment that nurtured growth, learning, and of good people. No one revealed their full intentions outright, though Catrina had found hardly anything to fault in what he’d said so far. It all seemed with full intention and if that was true, then William even now would fit in well.

”Based on our conversation in the past, I had had the thought as well,” she revealed with a humor led smile. ”So let us speak of now and see.” Brows went up to emphasize ‘now’ as it was said.

”Rhiannon still stands for all of what you’ve said and I can certainly go into more details as we talk, but is there anything top of mind that you’d like to know first?
Promising. Quite promising. In truth it had been much more an exercise in managing his own expectations, Billy's reluctance to assume an easy acceptance, than any grounded concern. There was no cause for animosity between them, and more than a little compatibility between their views on the world and immortality. Plus a generous supply of mutual benefit. What indeed stood in the way?

Nothing he'd yet been able to spot, but some level of caution remained.

"Oh, not so far as general happenings about the premises goes," he answered with a scant head shake. "I believe I've enough understanding there from both prior chats and, ah, the things one hears around the city to be confident that there's nothing hiding behind the curtain I'd find objectionable." This did seem like a fine opportunity to be a little more specific about his own ambitions, though. Membership for its own sake and the pleasures of community were all well and good; however...

"I would rather like to establish a preference for making myself useful. I believe you're already aware of my healing capabilities, which I'm happy to make freely available. But to date I've also only made jovial contact with other local immortals. With the one notable and blessedly irrelevant exception." Yuna's opinion of him was not terribly impactful at this point. There were a couple other stains on his record, but a pair of reactionary fools causing trouble on a new moon were hardly his responsibility. Best forgotten.

"There would be both personal fulfillment and, I think, significant value in utilizing my propensity for—I flatter myself—charming our kin." He'd served as Medic before, but it was so... hmm, obvious? Basic? Somehow an adequate but unsatisfying duty. No, he saw much more room for growth and gratification as a legatus.

A role in which he'd striven to service Yuna, but she'd tragically proven too stupid to appreciate it. A view best kept to himself.
Such handsome words from the two. It was like watching a tennis match with the strain Elena had to keep from swinging her head from side to side. There were details shared she had not been privy to. A few stories that intrigued, but seemed long dead by an air of indifference.

William was his usual verbose self, perhaps a touch more with the Domina. And Catrina, for all her pose of propriety, Elena could tell the Domina had made her decision before they even arrived.

Elena had been given her wish, to see these two engage in a friendly word match. She would enjoy her boon in pleased silence. Her neck was kept straight and focused, but her eyes flitted between the two like a darting hummingbird.

What fun.
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