Prologue: Tauroctony, Scene II (Lauren)

"Not a problem." Oleander said, a small, smug little smile on his face. He locked the van as they left, taking the camera and the gladius with him, and letting Lauren bounce on ahead of him.

"Nice-looking place." The blond man said once they entered the apartment, putting down the camera equipment where Lauren had indicated. One had to admit, Oleander looked somewhat out of place here. Here was what was undoubtedly a shutterbug's lair, and here was a handsome, hard-edged Viking type in jeans and a form-fitting t-shirt in the middle of it. Though perhaps Oleander could have been a photographer's model, which would have explained his presence.

"So how does this film development work, exactly?" Oleander said after a moment's pause, when it became clear that Lauren was neither throwing him out nor offering him coffee. "Does it take long?"

Seriously, she was going to have to make a grocery run and at least keep some drinks on hand. All she had to offer was tap water or her own blood, and neither seemed like a good idea, even to Lauren.

"The actual development only takes a few minutes, but I have to get it set up... it requires some high voltage." She was about to tell him he was free to sit on the couch, but it finally occurred to her how dirty he was. Granted, this was the first time she'd seen him in such good light. And if Oleander was dirty...

"Ew. I'm gross." Lauren gave herself an experimental sniff. She grimaced in disgust as she was met with the overwhelming scent of cow.

Well, that was problem. There was only one shower, and the kitchen sink was in the darkroom. Lauren looked Oleander up and down. He wasn't nearly as dirty as she was, and in fact, he wore it well. But the shower, at least, was something she could offer him.

"Um, you can take the shower first, if you want?"

"Mind if I stick around and watch?" Oleander said, his smirk disappearing for the moment into an expression of interest. He was looking at the photographic equipment scattered about the room, and he was genuinely looking at it, not just politely glancing at it. Lauren knew the difference between the two, and it meant that whatever else, Oleander was trying to understand just what it was that Lauren did here. The blond man looked back at her after a moment. "I want to see just what happened to our missing hour, if you'll let me."

"And you better take the shower first." Oleander said, returning Lauren's examination with interest, his ice-blue eyes raking her body. The corner of his lip curled up. "You need it more than I do."

People didn't usually care much about the actual process of taking photographs, just the end result. And people like Oleander who showed more than a polite interest were doubly rare. It was at once exciting and confusing. Well, really, the whole situation was confusing. Lauren probably could have handled things with a certain degree of smoothness back when she was human, but after being Embraced and avoiding romance for the most part, she was more than a little out of practice.

"You're welcome to stay." She'd invited him to her apartment and they hadn't even done anything. If he left now, that would officially be the lamest thing ever.

Lauren certainly couldn't argue over who was dirtier. She was the clear winner. "Alright. I'll be right back!" She darted off to her room to fetch a change of clothes--a short skirt and a button-down blouse--before rushing into the bathroom to take the quickest shower in the history of showers.

Lauren bounced back to where she'd left Oleander minutes later, hair wet and full of nervous energy. "It's all yours. I'll get the equipment ready."

Lauren returned to find Oleander admiring some of the Kirlian prints that hung on the walls, the ones that had electric auras of entire human bodies, of coins, of plants and animals. He was being careful not to touch anything, though he'd wiped his hands down as carefully as he could before leaving Walbrook. Some of this was just basic politeness, some of it was the certainty that he really shouldn't leave more of the late Scott's blood around than could be helped.

"Very pretty." Oleander said, looking Lauren over once again, his eyes following the contours of her body, hovering temporarily over the short skirt.

"Anything I can change into?" He said, the familiar and astonishingly aggravating smirk returned, "Or will I just have to make do?"

Was he saying that about the photographs? Or... no, he was definitely saying that about her. "Thank you." Lauren smiled, preening a bit.

Aaaaand there it was again, that damn smirk. Well, she was just going to have to fire back. "Nope. Sorry." Lauren folded her arms and shrugged, looking nonchalant. "I've got towels, if you need them. I'm sure you can think of something." She started to get her equipment ready to develop the film with all the signs of someone who really didn't care about Oleander's clothing situation. She was giving herself so many mental backpats.

Lauren certainly managed to give Oleander pause, as he gave her that dreadfully intense look once again. He didn't quite believe his ears. But when Lauren decided to ostentatiously ignore him, Oleander just grinned. He got up, pulling off his t-shirt even as he headed for the shower. "On your head be it." He called back over one shoulder, as Lauren caught a glimpse of an impossibly smooth, ivory back before he closed the door.

Unlike Lauren, Oleander took his time with the shower, and Lauren could hear the hot water gushing away at full flow all the while that she was working with the photography equipment. As a matter of fact, Lauren had set up almost all the equipment by the time Oleander strolled out of the bathroom. This was for the best, given that his appearance could have distracted the dead.

The blond, pale bastard had taken Lauren to her word. His clothing was nowhere to be seen, and the only thing he wore was one of Lauren's towels wrapped and knotted around his waist. In the new light, near-naked, Lauren could get a very good look at him, and he looked good enough to eat. He was taller than her, and broader in the shoulders, and every inch of his body was a testament to the fact that this was a man used to physical work and to fighting. The sweatshirt with the gym logo had been entirely accurate, and if anything, had underestimated the number of dense muscles across his body. There were other things as well, old scars on his ivory skin, parallel claw marks down his chest.

He smirkd at her, expression nonchalant as he strolled over to see what Lauren was working on.

Oleander was taking long enough that Lauren had time to get sufficiently engrossed in her preparations and nearly forgot he was even there. She did hear him approaching, and turned to let him know that she was about ready to start. He was naked. Completely naked, except for the towel. Lauren's mouth fell open. She had said... but she hadn't expected him to take her at her word!

Her eyes roamed across his body, taking note of the smooth skin, the mysterious scars, the firm muscles. Lauren's imagination was working overtime trying to decide what it would feel like to run her hands over him. But more than that, she noticed how his pale skin let a few veins show through, and the lovely flush his body had taken from the shower. Suddenly, the photographs were no longer her primary concern.

She finally realized she was staring and turned back to her equipment briefly before looking at Oleander again, just to make sure he was real. Lauren swallowed and cleared her throat. "Um. I'm done getting ready, so we can develop it now. It's pretty cool to watch, if you wanna see. I have to turn the lights off, though." She put her hand on the switch. "But I have really good night vision, so just follow my lead."

Lauren flicked the switch off, and decided to take a closer look at a different aspect of him before his eyes had time to adjust. His aura... was definitely intense. Certainly more than she was used to seeing in a human. That was odd... but it appeared that her less than innocent interest in him was mutual. So. That was good.

She walked over to him and took his hand, slowly leading him to her kitchen-darkroom. It was a bit cramped with two people and all the equipment, and especially cramped when one of those people was a big, naked guy.

"Careful not to touch anything, there's gonna be a lot of electricity." Lauren began developing the photos, putting each on the plate and pressing the button to control the voltage, which illuminated each photo briefly in a gorgeous violet light. It only took her a few minutes to finish, after which she carefully (mainly to avoid dislodging someone's towel) edged out of the kitchen to hit the light again.

"So!" Lauren clapped her hands together. "Let's see what we've got."

What Lauren and Oleander had was several answers and a great many more questions. You couldn't film via the Kirlian process. It just didn't work that way. Frankly, it didn't really work at a range either, but that was why Vincent Moon was a genius and the rest of the world was not. Even so, the camera had been set to take a new exposure every 180 seconds, and it had managed to take fourteen photographs before it had mysteriously shut off.

The first couple of photographs showed Lauren and Oleander and the bull, practicing their swordplay and getting onto the bull. The first answer, and the first question, took place after the bull was dead, in the third exposure. The electrical auras were immense, to the point that the photographic plate was quite nearly unusable, just a mass of vibrant color. With effort, Lauren could pick out the bull from the center of it, but both she and Oleander were impossible to make out.

Then, beginning from the fourth plate, it showed a simple room once again, the outlines of Lauren, Oleander, and the dead bull all that was there. The bull's aura slowly faded, the life-force draining away from it, over the course of the next several exposures, until one reached the thirteenth plate.

There, in the corners of the room, were four new electrostatic outlines. Four kirlian auras added to the corners of picture. One was long and sinuous, like a serpent or worm, six to eight feet long at Lauren's best guess. One was a small blotch near the top, shaped something like an upward-opening crescent. One was definitely a dog or wolf, passing by Oleander. And the fourth was the size of a dinner plate but vaguely triangular, and moving across the floor. All four were incredibly blurry compared to the much sharper, discrete auras of Lauren and Oleander.

The fourteenth exposure showed those same four auras, but they were on the bull's dying aura now. The serpentine aura and the canine aura were both adjacent to the bull's neck. Tearing at the wound, perhaps? The flat, triangular aura was further back, near the bull's genitals. The crescent aura had disappeared, replaced by an oval blotch that was set atop Lauren's shoulder.

And that was it. The camera had shut down at that point, without, as far as Lauren could tell, any damage done to it whatsoever. It had just... turned off.

"Something... was in there with us..." Lauren stared at the photographs with a growing sense of unease. She hadn't felt anything, or seen anything. And the last picture.... One of them was on her. Had it done something to her? There was plenty of time left unaccounted for.

"Any ideas?" She glanced at Oleander.


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