Prologue: The Damned, Scene I (Lauren)

"Consider it a professional interest." Sheridan said, regarding Lauren idly. She was thinking, which made her lift one hand up to her face and chew on an elegant fingernail absently. This did somewhat ruin the illusion of the supremely cultured aristocrat, one had to admit. "When I was young, I worked -- among other things -- as an artist's model. Though this was when photography was still only a glimmer in the eye, so my experience is more with oil paintings."

"Oh, really?" Lauren was surprised, but it made sense. Sheridan was beautiful. "Well, there are still some similarities, especially with more realistic paintings. They had to worry about lighting and such, though of course they didn't have the degree of control over it we do now." She leaned forward eagerly. "I bet you met some amazing people."

"I'm afraid I travelled in circles far removed from the artistic havens you're imagining." Sheridan said, smiling at Lauren's sudden enthusiasm. "The center of the world for the arts then was Paris, despite the Revolution. I lived most of my earliest years in London, posing for portraits for hireling portraitists and genre painters. Constable and Turner did not number among my circles of acquaintance."

"Still, perhaps I shall tell you stories of my artistic past some day." Sheridan said, still looking at Lauren in that thoughtful way. "Were I to commission you for a series of formal portraits, what would you recommend?"

"I'd like that." Lauren grinned. "Oh! Well, it depends on the mood you want to evoke. But usually the subject has a place in mind that has some significance to them, and that works well." Her eyes were alight with possibilities, and she seemed to have completely forgotten that Lydia was still next to her.

Lydia, to judge from the way that Cher Ami was poking around, was entirely happy to be ignored. She sat, utterly unmoving, her hands folded in her lap. A fashion-store mannequin, strange and fey.

"For our theme, let us go with Majesty. Public portraits, works of art to last an age." The Lady of London said. "You have access to my estate, of course. A formal shooting can also be arranged at St. Bartholomews."

"Oh, wow!" The effort it took for Lauren to not jump up in excitement was obvious. "I suppose we could start at your estate, then, and see how those come out. Its beauty is quite timeless, after all." Her eyes danced over the room.

"Thank you." Sheridan said, smiling politely, charmed by Lauren's unabashed enthusiasm. When one was dead and bitter and surrounded by dried-up horrors, someone as carefree and enthused as Lauren could be a breath of fresh air. "One of my few little luxuries. I collect art work and period furniture."

Once one knew what to look for, the parlor was indeed a work of art. There were marble-topped sideboards and bookshelves filled with heavy, leather-bound tomes. Old portraits of somber or whimsical men and women in 19th century attire hung alongside landscapes of rolling English fields and later prints of industrial machinery. Sheridan's home was a museum to the past, or more a coccoon. Outside, Sheridan fought and intrigued and manipulated the modern world. At home, at least, she'd created her own little haven of the past, where she could be comfortable and secure from worry. It was a false security, but pleasant nevertheless.

"As a matter of fact, I've made it a note to collect those old paintings I modeled in, my own little joke to hang them alongside Titian and Gainsborough." Sheridan said, indicating one small portrait with a casual hand. It was definitely Sheridan, red-haired, freckled, but much more wide-eyed and innocent than the present Lady of London could ever manage. She was dressed as a milkmaid or peasant girl, and sitting on a rail fence in front of a pasture. "Innocence lost."

Lauren contemplated the portrait. It was strange to see someone still alive in a painting. The artist had done an admirable job of capturing Sheridan's beauty, though Lauren agreed that it would be difficult for her to pull off the same look now.

"It's interesting how people can look older without actually aging," she said softly. A moment passed before her eyes widened. "I mean, not--you're still beautiful, just er, more mature. Yes." Lauren pinched herself in an effort to get her head out of the clouds.

"You might say that I look hardened by two hundred years of blood and night." Sheridan said, amused at Lauren's apparent discomfiture. She rested her hand on the armrest of the chair, smiling gently at the foreign girl who could've been her sister. "You needn't be so careful. I've never been a great fan of beauty. It tends to cause as much trouble as it solves, though I suppose I do have it to thank for immortality."

"You do?" The Lady's smile was disarming, and Lauren forgot her place as quickly as she'd remembered it. "I've always heard it the other way around." Indeed, the idea of eternal youth and beauty was one of the supposed perks of vampirism that Lauren heard most often. She couldn't say she disliked it, but she wasn't sure it was worth the price.

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