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Prologue: A Matter of Soul, Scene I (Lauren)

   
Oleander's apartment was actually nicer than she'd been expecting, based on the outside. She walked in slowly, eyes darting around, trying to soak in every detail. "You're very clean." Most of the men whose living spaces she'd entered had no regard for it.

She eyed the mail, but knew it would be rude. Lauren suddenly felt bad for the times she'd pouted because Oleander wouldn't take her to his place. While she was glad to be here now, she couldn't see herself visiting with any regularity. She wanted to apologize, or do something nice, but it was a struggle to come up with something that wouldn't be condescending.

It was odd that his apartment seemed less lived-in than Lauren's, considering she technically didn't "live" in hers at all. The photo on the desk caught her eye quickly (as photos tended to do) and she walked over to pick it up and take a closer look.

"Your siblings?"

"Half-siblings. Percy, and that's Annette and Cosette." Oleander said, looking over Lauren's shoulder to see just what she was looking at. His voice had a strange undercurrent in it, something different than Oleander's usual mocking of the world. "Mum had strong genes. This was taken... ten years ago?"

He reached around Lauren and took the picture from her, flipping it over to look at the date. It read, 4/12/1995. He nodded to himself and passed it back to her. "So about a year or two before I found out what I was."

"Were they also...? I mean, I don't really know much about werewolves." Lauren's words were rushed and unsure. She didn't know how he felt about his family, or if they were a sensitive subject, but there was a good chance they were. Being a supernatural creature seemed to ruin those sorts of things.

She stared at the picture, running her finger along the frame. Lauren didn't have any pictures of her family in her apartment. At least, visible ones. Nowadays, she rarely thought of them, usually only when something about her life as a human was brought up. And it didn't bother her much. That was a chapter in her life that had been over for quite a while. But this picture, and the knowledge that it was surely the most recent picture of them that Oleander had, brought her back to the moment when she realized that she could never really return to them, even if she wanted to.

She set the picture down and tried to find something else of focus on. Crying as a vampire was many times more unpleasant than crying as a human, and a lot more messy, so she wasn't going to start.

"No, they weren't." Oleander said, still looking over Lauren's shoulder at the photograph. He had a strange sort of expression on his face, calm, and yet very different from his usual gaze. "That came from my dad. It's about the only thing that did."

"The curse goes down through blood, but it's more like, I don't know, you're more likely to have heart problems if your uncle and granddad had heart problems?" Oleander said. He moved away from the picture now, on safer footing as he explained how werewolves worked. He unzipped the anorak and hung it on a hook by the door, left only in jeans and a tight t-shirt. "If you have the blood of the wolf, you might Change... if something provokes it. Took a brick to the head for me."

"But no, no one else in my family ever had the blood of the wolf." Oleander said, leaving so many questions unanswered. Or perhaps merely unsaid. Four siblings, all with different fathers, of whom only Oleander's blood carried whatever it was turned him into a monster. And while there was a picture of his brother and sisters, his mother was conspicious by her absence.

"Do you want to stay the day here?" Oleander said, looking out across his one-room apartment and wondering much the same as Lauren. Finding a different subject of conversation than their screwed-up family life seemed a good idea. "Or...?"

"If you don't mind." Normally, she wouldn't stay in a place like this, but with Oleander here, she felt safe enough. Lauren removed her own jacket and hung it with his.

She glanced at the picture again. There were a lot of things she wanted to ask, but most of them, she wasn't sure she had the right to. At least, it would be awkward if he turned many of the questions back on her, and she had to tell him about her normal, happy family life that she only left when she was an adult.

"Your mother seemed to like uncommon names," she remarked. It looked like a safe enough way to comment on her, and she had noticed a pattern there.

Lauren sat on the edge of Oleander's couch-bed and looked up at him.

"God, don't even say that." Oleander said, cringing. He did, indeed, cringe. Someone who committed callous murder and broke out of the Highgate Citadel found the thought of his family's names too horrific to mention. "The idea was that we'd be special. Stand out from the crowd."

"It kind of worked? Having a name like Lesley Titching makes you learn how to fight at a very young age." Oleander said. He took off his sneakers and put them by the door, and then sat down onto the couch next to Lauren. He glared at her. "And don't say a word."

Lauren grinned widely, but managed to not say anything. It was clearly a struggle. "You know, it's only funny because of how you react," she said, once she had composed herself.

"It's not that awful. You just sound like you came from a different time or something." Lauren took off her boots and kicked them over near Oleander's shoes. "Kids are really mean, though."

"Where'd 'Oleander' come from?" she asked as she removed her hair tie and shook her head.

"Lesley's a girl's name." Oleander said firmly. He stretched out along the couch, or at least so much as possible given that Lauren was there as well. Oleander's apartment wasn't really built to accomodate more than one person, but the werewolf made an honest effort. "It is that bad."

"Oleander's my deed-name. Back when I was still new to the werewolf business, I used some oleander leaves to poison another werewolf who was giving me trouble." Oleander explained, smiling a bit at the memory. "The rest of the pack figured that was clever of me, so they nicknamed me Oleander. It beats Lesley, so..."

"I think it suits you." Lauren picked up her feet and curled up on the couch, arms circling one leg and her head resting on her knee. "Beautiful and deadly." She grinned at how corny her comment was, but she meant it, too.

"What's it like, changing?" She glanced down, then back up, cautiously. "You wouldn't let me see, so..." Lauren was trying not to push her luck, she really was. But it was so exciting, being here where Oleander lived and getting so many details about his life. She was in an excellent mood, earlier events nearly forgotten for the moment.

"Thanks." Oleander said, the familiar smirk returning to his face at the compliment. He stretched out, close enough to touch, legs crossed and arms folded behind his head.

"Do you really want to see?" Oleander said, twisting his head to look at Lauren. He shrugged. "It's just it can be a bit off-putting. It isn't much like anything. Just very prickly, like your legs fell asleep, only it's your whole body."





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