Logs:Smoke and Mirrors

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Smoke and Mirrors

Characters: Kara and Nikola
Date: 2020-07-09
Summary: A fateful encounter takes a dark turn.
Disclaimers: Suggestive themes, use of Dominate

The devil tempts us not--'tis we tempt him,

Beckoning his skill with opportunity. - George Eliot

Seventh Ward

Some of the run-off from the Quarter ends up here in the Seventh Ward. Along their shared boundaries are more bars, but a large part of the ward is given over to more residential sorts of areas. Homes here range from run down, but still expensive given their locale, to downright resplendent. There are a couple of grade schools, churches and grocery stores among the homes.

The range in style of building and upkeep is what really gives this place character. Go down one street and you might find a small mansion with breathtaking French architecture. Head down another and the houses could be boarded up or graffitied. The only thing in common with many places is that they are old and some damages have been repaired, while others are left to sit.

Theme: City Ambience

It's supposed to be New York that never sleeps, isn't it? And yet surely New Orleans has to be a close second in the insomnia race. Tonight in particular, the thick, humid air of the city seems to be holding a breath; the ceaseless noise of the streets pregnant with possibility even at this anti-social hour. There's the wail of a siren in the distance. The dull roar of nightlife from the French Quarter. The occasional unexplained crash or startle-inducing blare of a car alarm. If one listens closely enough, they might even discern the lilt of live music, probably from one of the more lively establishments further toward the river. Here, though? It's more.. weary. Not peaceful, exactly. Just uninterested in the nonsense of joie de vivre.

Barely noting any of this, of course, is the brunette who steps out of the Star of Hope Shelter, pushing the heavy swing door open with one hip as she multitasks in that way only women truly can. A cellphone is balanced between her shoulder and her cheek, a cheap to-go cup of coffee in one hand and a stack of files and papers balanced within the crook of the opposite elbow. So, not one of those in need of a bed, obviously. Plus she's dressed much too nicely to be homeless. A doctor, maybe? Pausing out on the sidewalk, avoiding a precariously slanted broken paver with her sharp high heels, the woman casts an unseeing glance along the street, her features thrown into stark relief by the streetlights lining the Seventh Ward and the steadily throbbing neon of the Indian restaurant across the street. She's striking, though her features are tired; the shadows beneath her eyes evident even in this unnatural illumination. High cheekbones and big, dark-lashed eyes, with lips that might be considered sensual were they not engaged in conversation at this precise moment.

Her clothing is, as aforementioned, of blatantly high quality. A slim fitting pencil skirt of black, with a crisp white blouse tucked beneath the waistband and a matching blazer, left casually unbuttoned for the moment. It mightn't sound much but the suit is clearly tailored. Dress for the job you want, right?

"..just finished up with a client.." The brunette's voice drifts through the balmy night air as she continues the discussion on her cell. Pause. "I know, baby. But it's late and I'm wiped. Can we do it tomorrow..? Oh.." There's a wobble as her stack of paperwork makes a bid for freedom, a file threatening to slide free from the curve of her arm and prompting her to tighten her hold. Which, really, just makes matters worse. "..shit." She tilts her upper body in a vain attempt to salvage the situation, but not having a hand free might prove to be ruinous.

Even the most poised and elegant of creatures can have a lapse, apparently. It's like a train wreck in slow motion as she struggles to maintain her hold.

Darkness, in the Seventh Ward, is a pleasurable experience for some. New York City is far too bustling, people shoulder-to-shoulder at all hours, regardless of heat or rain or personal space. While New Orleans may not sleep -- wanders drunkenly through the streets, in truth, thanks to that open container law -- it is, at least, possible to breathe without pressing your warmth into someone else's neck. The sounds of the city are like the white noise of a sleep-machine to those acclimated to it. But everyone needs an escape, needs a break from the chaos. Joie de vivre? No -- some, in New Orleans, are more interested in joie de morte.

Nikola Senjan is enjoying a late night stroll through the humid, steaming, streets. He's wearing a gray suit, pinstriped with silver, over a cornflower-blue dress shirt. A tie of cobalt silk completes the ensemble. The Sheriff of the New Orleans Praxis is listening to music as he walks near to the Star of Hope Shelter, apparently uninterested in anything but the Gregorian Plainchant pulsing into his single earbud. But there is, to the trained observer, a coiled awareness about the creature, a sense of protean awareness. The bearded Pirate Lord misses nothing, or at least strives for that sort of near-perfection. It would be embarrassing, after all, for someone of his status to die in a shotgun blast from a gangbanger. So he catches Kara as she exits the Shelter, catches her full-blast. He slows his steps to buy himself some time as he examines the woman, drawing nearer at a lazy saunter now rather than a full-bore advance. Reaching into his pocket, he mutes the music -- but he doesn't remove the earbud.

Dark eyes flick up and down her frame, taking in the expensive clothing, the pile of work documents in her hand. She might, in some ways, be his perfect complement -- both of them dressed in tailored suits, obviously businesspeople. Obviously tired of the madness to be found in the French Quarter. Unobtrusively drawing nearer as the brunette speaks on the phone, Nikola notes the way the paper begins to tremble and sway like a deck of cards feeling the first blast of air conditioning. Air conditioning -- that would be nice, wouldn't it?

Opportunity knocks.

Nikola lunges forward as the papers begin to sway, closing the distance between he and Kara in two more long-legged strides, his hands going out to either side of the stack of documents in an attempt to save the day.

"Shitshitshit.." Gritting her teeth, the brunette actually brings up a knee in an attempt to waylay the by now insistently escaping paperwork with her thigh. Whoever is on the other end of that call must be bewildered by now. But rescue comes, as luck would have it, in the form of the pair of hands that suddenly materialise, grasping the bundle of paperwork before it can venture any further. There's a soft gasp from the woman, mostly for the realisation of someone having approached without her really noticing - hey, she was at the multitask limit, okay? But the swift actions of her savior do, at least, free her to snatch her cellphone before it, too, decides to disembark. That'd end in sidewalk fatality and she really can't afford to replace yet another. Raising her eyes - which are, on closer inspection, a hazel so vivid they're almost gold - Kara meets the gaze of her white knight. And, just for a splitsecond, she freezes, staring mutely at him with lips yet parted where she'd been drawing breath to speak. The brief fumble has left her dark hair ever so slightly askew across one temple and she rights this now, shaking the tresses out of her face before addressing the faceless companion on the line. "..I gotta go. I'll call you tomorrow." Pause. "Love you, too. Night." From here, it's a deft and practised motion to pocket the cellphone in her jacket pocket. Should be easier to balance the papers with only a coffee to impede her. One would hope, anyway.

A slow smile plays across her lips now as she regains some of her composure and dignity, though she has the good grace to look at least a touch sheepish. The expression reveals dimples in the hollows of those high cheekbones. And there's.. a certain warmth to her manner, even in this subtlety, that's not often observed in the dark places of the world. "Thank you. Guess I shoulda made two trips after all." She offers her arm out for the stranger to return the files, now that she's less of a hot mess. Polite. Pleasant. But not overly inviting.

Lazy wisps of steam roll from the coffee cup in her other hand, held aloft, and meander off into the nothingness. Even the ambience seems oddly quiet, all at once. Or perhaps that's just all in her head. A side effect of wry embarassment at having been caught out in an ungainly moment. Especially by a handsome stranger in a fine suit. On the plus side, those skyscraper heels ensure she's at least somewhere close to his level, stature wise.. and she straightens herself a fraction further to emphasise it. "Nice reflexes, by the way." She can't seem to help adding this, the corner of her lips twitching in apparently natural mischief. Despite her well-groomed appearance, she's not been too heavy-handed with the makeup. There's no real need. Just a hint of mascara to emphasise those big doe eyes and a daub of rosy hue upon that lower lip. Then again, perhaps she's just come off a twelve hour shift and these are the last remnants of a formerly more polished facade.. Beyond the scent of coffee, there's the barest hint of perfume lingering about her attire, heady and exotic. But yes.. it has been a long day.

Nikola smiles as he closes on Kara, both hands closing around the bundle of paperwork. The smile is friendly, pleasant, lacking his habitual sharp leer. The gasp brings a slight widening of his eyes, a slight dilation of his pupils. He might be as surprised by her reaction as she is by his presence. Alternatively, he might be delighted at the frisson of shock that he has elicited. He waits for Kara to regain her composure, watching with an avid curiosity and an utter lack of shame as she snags the cellphone before it topples to the concrete. A sidewalk fatality -- there would be a sense of sympathy in that, if in nothing else. How many cellphones has Nikola intentionally smashed beneath his heel, or unintentionally dropped in some alleyway scuffle, since the invention of the flip-phone? He's probably lost count by now, poor soul. If he actually paid for them, he'd be ringing up quite a bill. But when the brunette stiffens at the look of him, her mouth half-open, Nikola's smile fades slightly. It's as though a brief needle of pain touches him, or an electric jolt, when their eyes meet. He forgets, for a few heartbeats, to make his heart beat. As Kara disengages from the disembodied boyfriend -- he presumes -- Nikola summons back his composure, remembers to blink periodically, remembers to feign breath. With luck, she will take the lapse as one of those kinetic heartbeat moments, caused by Cupid's arrows.

Her smile brings back his own, and he does her the courtesy of allowing her time to regain her dignity. There will be ample opportunity to strip it away again later, after all. Nikola takes in her smile, still with that unerring intensity, that way he has of turning off everything except the person he's focused so deeply on. "You're welcome," he says. The faint traces of an Eastern European accent ride through the words as he settles the documents back into Kara's arm, letting his fingers brush against her suited bicep lightly before he withdraws. A momentary brush against the barriers she has established, a little provocation. Probably harmless -- perhaps not even noticeable.

"If you'd taken two trips," the foreign Ventrue says, "I wouldn't have been able to help you. That would be a shame." If there is a world outside this moment, Nikola is intentionally not acknowledging it, inviting her to stay in the bubble of steam that is forming around the pair. "And thank you. I don't often have the chance to put them to the test." Not entirely untrue -- it's been some time, now, since he was in a fight for his life or was forced to pit himself against a hurricane. Her mischievous smile elicits a hint of trouble in his own eyes, as he adds "Apart from the piracy and gambling, of course." Maybe it's a bad joke. There aren't any more pirates in New Orleans. Are there? He reaches out suddenly with his left hand to snag the coffee from Kara's grip, reaches out with his right hand to offer a shake. "Nikola Senjan. Has it been a long day, Miss?..."

There's a sudden bout of raucous laughter from further down the street, a group of young people emerging from a diner and heading off toward the bright lights of the French Quarter. The sound turns the brunette's head, as one would expect. But it's a fleeting respite from the unintended reverie and she returns, after a moment's consideration, to this odd little world of two and her regard of her rescuer. Does she notice anything amiss, in the way he looks at her in the wake of that splitsecond shock of their gazes locking? If so, she covers it incredibly well. Maybe she's just too polite to pry. Maybe she's had enough prying for one day. Night. Whatever. Regardless, whether she catches that flicker of something in Niko's eyes, she doesn't press upon it. Nor does she shy from the intense scrutiny. Brave girl. Or foolhardy.

Accepting the papers - which mostly appear to be handwritten notes and pamphlets on local outreach and community services, were one to sneak a peek - Kara bundles them into some semblance of order within the protective embrace of her arm, fastidiously aligning the edges as best she can with her fingertips. Sensing the featherlight pass of touch across her jacket sleeve, she remains unflinching; studying the man in kind almost as answer to some unspoken challenge, jaw tilting up a fraction. Therein lies the response to a little provocation, whether she consciously intends it or not.

A passing car brings with it a stirring of air, the breeze straying her dark locks across her brow once more, only for them to be calmly shaken aside. Force of habit. If she truly cared, one imagines she would pin it up. It suits her better loose, though. Softens her, somehow.

Hugging her paperwork in against her ribs now that it's 'proper', the woman tilts her head a touch askance in a display of curiosity for his benefit. She might be genuinely as enthralled, as fixated, on the stranger before her.. then again, manners cost nothing. And her relaxed demeanor is oddly.. soothing, even in these first few moments of interaction. There's an aura of serenity about her, in comparison to so many other denizens of the city. The sort of person who strolls, without a care, among those who hurry and fret. It's undeniably magnetic, to some. Maybe that's why she seems unperturbed by the weight of his attention. "That's no Louisiana accent.." she points out, by way of enquiry, before she herself relents to a wry grin; acknowledging the flattery in his words. Not to mention the trouble in those eyes. Ahem. "Piracy and gambling, huh?" Her own gaze wanders pointedly downward over his very nice suit. "You must be a decent player.. I doubt those threads would stand up to swashbuckling. Oh!"

This last is uttered as she finds her cheap coffee whisked from her hand, a blink of surprise accompanying as her eyes rise back to Niko's dark hues. The 'wh..' can actually be seen forming upon her lips, before realisation dawns with the offer of a handshake. Right. Introductions. That amused grin widens, a well-practised, professional expression of warmth now. The sort she spends all day giving to clients and colleagues. It comes as naturally as breathing.. well, for those who rely on such things. Placing her hand gently within his grasp, the young woman permits the shake. "Kara Black." She doesn't correct him with 'Doctor'.. or 'Mrs'. "And.. honestly, yes. Yes, it has. Does it show?" A soft laugh escapes her with the self deprecation, those golden eyes straying from the man before her to a doorway across the street. A bar, judging by the tacky neon signage. But one has to admire the genius and lack of tact in placing it directly opposite a junky and wino hotspot.

It's the laughter that breaks the spell for Nikola, as well. His glance toward the group of young people is sharp, wary -- a predator's gaze. Just for a moment, if Kara were to glance at him, she would see the razor's edge beneath that smile. But as she turns back to him, he returns his attention to her as well, to the strangely-muted space that the pair have created for themselves. There is something about the way she does not turn away from him, does not refute his attention with a quick escape, that speaks to him of courage. Even if only in the pit of her stomach, where perhaps there is some tension beginning to contract and coil on itself, she must be aware that something...significant is before her. Something portentous. Nikola certainly is. He cannot put his finger on the pulse of it, not yet, but something pulls at his memories, centuries-buried. Do not let this pass, whispers some part of him. And he obeys.

He watches as she adjusts the papers, aligning them with her fingertips, his attention on her perfectionism equally intense as the way he studies her reaction to his challenge, the way her chin lifts subtly in answer to his touch. There is invitation there, perhaps, as well as an answering strength. She does not shy away from the game -- she meets it head-on. Nikola knows exactly what he is doing with these initial probes, a master fencer beginning the first steps in a series of parries and thrusts that will, unquestioningly, lead to victory. Unquestioningly, that is, in his own mind.

As the car blasts by, Nikola reaches out with what is apparently an instinctual gesture. His hand brushes against her cheek lightly, tucking away the lock of hair that she's just shaken out of her eyes. He doesn't rush the touch, doesn't rush the way his hand drops back to his side. His dark eyes never flicker in the direction of that passing vehicle, as though only its effects are truly real to him.

He smiles faintly -- unwontedly shy -- as the woman tips her head faintly, mirroring his own habitual movement. Nikola is a master manipulator, but he has never in his unlife heard of mirroring. If he were asked, he wouldn't be able to describe just why he's affected by the way she mimics him. Whether it's genuine or feigned, her shared interest elicits a dangerous increase in his interest. Whereas he had been intrigued a moment before, loathe to let the young woman escape his web, he is fixated at this moment. Moths are drawn to flame. Bears are drawn to meat. Nikola, it seems, is drawn toward serenity. Whether it shall consume him, or whether he shall demolish it, remains to be seen. Magnetic -- that's a good word for it. If one were to examine a sea-compass's inner workings, were to understand the magnetism of true north, they would draw a comparison to the way Nikola's attention is locked now. It's fortunate that she seems capable of bearing up under the strain of his attention, because he doesn't seem to be relenting anytime soon. "I am from Croatia," he responds evenly, offering another of his bashful smiles. "A small town on the sea, called Senj. But I've not been home in many years." His answer is smooth, completely unpracticed, no posturing at all in the words. Genuine, even. He answers her wry smile with a suddenly-sharp grin of his own, teeth gleaming. Nothing bashful here. "Actually, I own the tables. House always wins, you see. Legal piracy." A cagey wink. "But these suits hold up pretty well under vigorous activity."

As he snatches away the coffee, his dark gaze locks onto Kara's as she looks back up. There is sudden power there, behind his eyes, a mesmeric sense of...weight. A sense that beneath their feet, a current has suddenly begun to run -- a powerful riptide, drawing her will out of her own hands and toward his. It's deeply subtle, well beneath the surface of things, but things have begun to shift. He meets Kara's professional warmth with a genuinely amused smile of his own, his callused hand tightening subtly around hers, thumb pressing lightly into her palm. He doesn't release her immediately. "Kara Black. What a pleasure this is." His smile twitches wider. "It does, actually. Show, that is. It's past midnight, and you're just leaving work with a pile of papers and a cup of coffee." He follows her glance toward the dive bar, brows rising slightly. "Invite me along," he suggests. But it's not really a suggestion. Not a thing that she could refuse, even if she were of a mind to. "I want to get to know you."

Nikola gets 3 successes on Mesmerize roll.

Is Kara brave? In many ways, yes. But courage is not the absence of fear, merely the triumph over it. Her line of work demands, more often than one might think, that she stand firm in the face of whatever horrors the world can think to inflict upon the vulnerable. Though, her version of horror runs along the lines of abusive relationships. Drug abuse. Mental health issues. Not.. vampires. So, in this instance, ignorance is certainly blissful and her true strength of character, when faced with an altogether different sort of danger, remains as yet untested. Though, how long can that last, when one unwittingly ensnares the attention of a predator?

Especially one with a smile like that.

There's a momentary hint of wary uncertainty in her countenance as that hand rises toward her cheek, no matter how slowly he moves. That's a little.. forward. But then, he's foreign. And apparently a sucker for a damsel in distress, even if said woe is brought about only be errant strands of mahogany hair. That goes some way toward quelling the flutter of unease in the pit of her stomach. That was unease, yes..? "Thank you." she murmurs, automatically, for the assistance, unnecessary as it may be. And for a long moment, there's nothing more to say. He's looking at her.. and she's looking right back. Not easily daunted, this one, is she? And yet she seems, on the surface, utterly unperturbed. Maybe it's feigned confidence. But.. no. That air of calm is just inherently a part of her. A polished, gleaming armor against the shadows and cruelties of the world. What it might conceal beneath, of course, is anyone's guess. This is an established mask and not one that will slip easily, for some reason. The intrigue, at least, is unabashed. And she would be similarly at a loss to explain why.

"Have we.." The question, while it trails off, is likely obvious enough; have we met?. There's a discordant sense of deja vu the longer she remains in this unfamiliar halo of mutual appraisal. Not that it seems to elicit any desire to flee. Quite the contrary. Anyway. The man is answering her, so she lets the matter drop in favor of a less vague route of conversation. "Croatia." she echoes, nodding gently to convey her acceptance of the stated fact if not a sudden recognition of said accent. The 'explanation' of his owning tables - owning a casino - seems passable enough that she doesn't remark further upon it.. though you can bet she likely has some opinions on the predatory nature of gambling, if she works with addicts of any sort. Thankfully, the tease of 'legal piracy' amuses her enough to rouse another quiet laugh, a brow quirking as she counters it. "I see.. less swordfights and pillaging, more.. checkbooks and safety standards. Little less romantic, isn't it?"

And then her coffee is gone, her hand is in his and his dark eyes seem to somehow fill her vision, demanding and intense. Not that she had intended to but.. now she simply can't look away from the taller man, not even to glance down at the gentle pressure of his thumb to her vulnerable palm. Parting her lips, most likely to admonish the confirmation of her looking a little worse for wear, Kara frowns ever so slightly; the faintest hint of a crease between her dark brows becoming apparent. It's a minute detail, that line. But it betrays how she might look when deep in thought, were one to catch her in an unguarded moment of solitude. A splitsecond thrill of insight. A mental image of her perusing paperwork and files late into the night, illuminated by the somehow grimy lighting of a desk lamp. Invite me along.. The 'suggestion' whispers within her mind, fogging and waylaying the rational arguments that might otherwise arise. Yes.. she would actually rather have a drink than go home with her cafeteria coffee, doomed to doze off alone in bed watching reruns. Besides. Wouldn't it be nice to make a new friend, rather than just adding another name to the ever-growing list of clients?

Glancing again across the street, just as a few unsteady patrons descend the stairs and stumble good-naturedly out of the bar, the young woman then returns her attention, inevitably, to Niko. "Would.. you like to join me? It's not the fanciest place but it's friendly enough." And right across from one of her workplaces, it would seem. This won't be the first time she's ventured inside, that much is plain.

Once upon a time, Nikola knew real fear with a regularity that might be shocking to anyone in the modern world -- surging from storm to battle, to storm, to infected wound, to woman, to battle, to ambush, to retreat -- a constant stew of adrenaline, gut-wrenching terror, wild insane rage. Pride -- above all, pride. Nikola understands the true nature of courage, even if it has been centuries since he truly felt it, in his core. Her version of horror might skew toward the 'mundane' evils of the waking world, but she has seen it before now. Nikola can recognize that steadiness in the face of a threat, even if Kara hasn't identified him as a threat yet, not at anything above the deep lizard-brain level. He likes courage in a pet.

That moment of wariness -- well, that was her moment. That was the point at which she could have escaped. But she allows him to touch her, fingers grazing her cheekbone as he tucks that lock of hair back behind her ear. Foreign, yes -- surely that's the reason for his forwardness. Certainly not that this polite, well-dressed, man with his devilish smile is -- well, the Devil. "You're very welcome," he says. His eyes bore into hers as their gaze meets once more, as he slowly lets his hand drop back to his side. His nostrils flare slightly as he sniffs the air, taking time to appreciate the scent of her perfume, and perhaps attempting to glean a taste of the emotions underneath that impeccable armoring. The calm is genuine, that much is obvious -- the same sort of calm that a police officer might possess at a traffic accident. Everything's fine. This is fine. Nothing but the routine. Just a nice man at night. But it's the very rigidity of the mask, the seamlessness, the lack of obvious gaps for Nikola to slip his metaphorical fingernails in and rip it off that holds his interest. Quite apart from whatever else is happening between the two of them, whatever skein of awareness -- is it recognition? -- is beginning to form a thread.

"We haven't," replies Nikola softly. "Not in this life." What a strange thing to say -- but perhaps he feels it too, this sense of deja vu, this collision of intellects. Two objects tumbling toward one another with the force of smashing atoms, too fast for either person to warn the other -- or even to warn themselves, really. He seems surprised by his response, faintly relieved as she pursues a more obvious course of action. "That's right," he says quietly. "Croatia." The word seems vaguely uncomfortable in his mouth this time, as though something doesn't quite sit well with him. If he even considers the distaste she may have for his current 'profession', Nikola doesn't care enough to try to defend himself. Instead, he focuses on the positive -- a lesson he ought to carry with him throughout his life. His smile widens as she laughs, taking on a slightly lopsided cast as the scar on the corner of his lips twists sideways. "Oh, I do my fair share of pillaging," he says teasingly. "And I don't handle the books. I," he announces with a sudden flair of drama, "Am a ship's captain."

And then the coffee is in his hand, and he is summoning forth that secret power, the eroding strength of his honed and Vitae-reinforced will. He keeps his eyes on Kara as his thumb lightly massages her palm, back and forth. Back and forth. He smiles faintly, in subtle satisfaction, as he sees her conversational gambit go off-track. Nikola knows these signs all too well. But there is deep appreciation in watching that tiny furrow of her brows, that struggle to regain her equilibrium as the ground shifts beneath her feet. He can respect that. She's trying hard to hold true to herself, even if she doesn't know it. There is a keen intellect behind those austere features, those cheekbones... those eyes.

But yes -- it would be nice to have a harmless new friend, wouldn't it? Nikola follows Kara's glance across the street, indulging himself in a brief reminder of the world outside the the vacuum-intense barriers of their mutual regard. "I'd love to join you," Nikola responds cheerfully. He doesn't release Kara's hand, simply turns to walk toward the bar. She can either follow along or pull herself free of his grasp. As he passes a trash can, the Ventrue tosses her coffee into it with marvelously-arrogant disdain. "You should get drunk," he informs her. "It's been a hard day. Confide in me."

It's true.. that impenetrable mask of calm is almost too polished. Too practised. He's not the first to think so; it's a common opinion of the brunette, though not in any unkind sense. Under other circumstances, she's also been described as maternal. Soothing, in some indefinable way, as though she can simply wrap those in need of reassurance within the comfort of her presence. Niko, of course, is in need of no such thing. And so it's the 'professional warmth' level that endures.. even if some part of her is still wondering at that hint of recognition. If not for a familiar face.. then what is it? In the space of a mere few moments, how could they possibly have established any sense of accord? Her own awareness, the analytical thinking upon which she so often relies, remains hindered. And she hasn't even noticed. Irony.

Not in this life.. Does he believe in that sort of thing? Oh, this is all just too bizarre.. she should be making polite excuses and taking her leave. Not standing here gazing at a relative stranger like some lovestruck teenager. That much, at least, she will rectify right now. As he releases her hand, Kara doesn't snatch her fingertips from his - again, decorum - but she does wrap both arms about her files, hugging them against her midsection in a vaguely protective manner and clearing her throat gently. Let's focus on the conversation, shall we? No, not on that scar at the corner of his lips.. Lowering her gaze to her paperwork, the young woman lifts one hand just enough to idly thumb through the visible sheafs, as though ensuring their order is correct. Goodness, is she always so meticulous? Perhaps. But it's also an excellent, subtle means of avoidance; averting her eyes from Niko's even as she smirks in response to his tease. "A ship's captain..?" Initially, her tone is ever so slightly sardonic in disbelief. But her expression does gradually clear as she seizes upon a snippet of trivia, overheard most likely within the inane chatter of the workplace. Aaaaand that necessitates a rise of those golden, dark-lashed eyes once more. What was that, a whole five seconds? "Wait.. you mean the Regas, right?" The twist of her lips softens into one of those enigmatic curves. Finally, some tangible thread of real world connection. Tenuous, yes. But it's something. "A friend of mine recommended it."

That might seem an innocuous, throwaway afterthought. But were one to read between the lines.. either she lacks the funds or the energy to enjoy a night of entertainment of that standard. It was only the most subtle lacing, but there was a momentary wistfulness to her measured tone that gave her away.

Equilibrium tentatively restored, Kara dares a last glance back over her shoulder through the swing doors of the shelter. Would her colleagues fall prey to the evils of gossip, were they to witness her absconding with the Devil himself? Oh, no doubt. But nobody is manning the front desk at this exact moment. There's nobody to see her being led by the hand across the street, away from the light of charity and goodness and toward sin and indulgence. Just one drink. What harm could that do, really? Her tall heels tap staccato across the asphalt as she keeps pace with his longer strides, forced to a near jog. She pulls it off with aplomb. The clatter of her unceremoniously discarded coffee into the trash warrants a momentary glance in passing.. but there's time for nothing more.

What is she doing. Going for a drink with a strange man at this hour? She's a trusting person, yes.. but this is really playing with fire. A reckless decision the likes of which she hasn't made since her youth. And the less said about that period the better. Following Niko inside, the neon-red light inside the doorway reveals a narrow staircase quite apart from the Indian takeaway. And the party seems still to be in full swing on the floor above, the unmistakeable scents and sounds of a real bar. No fancy cocktails and jazz to be found here. This is where she chooses to frequent? Well.. there's no accounting for taste. Confide in me.. When was the last time she went to confession? Certainly not the 'last week' she promised her mother over the phone a few nights ago. But this is no preacher. The Devil doesn't come dressed in a red cape and pointy horns.. sometimes he comes as everything you've been wishing for and choosing to ignore.

You go off to... Taproom - The Duke of Gloucester - Seventh Ward

To the right of an Indian restaurant, a set of rickety stairs lead up to the door of the Duke of Gloucester. It's a traditional dive pub in every sense of the world, looking like it was pulled right out of a lower class corner of 1970s Europe and dropped down into the middle of New Orleans.

The taproom's furniture is dark wood covered in threadbare red velvet padding, set upon a low-pile 80s dark velvet carpet patterns with little tan flowers. Every wooden surface is covered in nicks, dents and stains from years of use, and the walls are covered with rugby and soccer scarves - some strategically placed to cover holes knocked in there over the years from mis-judged punches being thrown. The long bar is overflowing with thirty different beer taps, and beneath the back mirror are lined up bottles of all brands and grades of liquor.

Back Snug - The Duke of Gloucester - Seventh Ward

Around the back corner of the bar is a private 'snug' with the windows replaced with mirrors - one-way mirrors, which allow those inside to see outside with relative ease without opening the door.

Inside, a large booth with worn seating of red velvet surrounds a large circular table of wood - a circle of dark wood around the edge scratched and nicked over time, but a clever eye can still see where a serpent's head was carved into it, turning the table's perimeter into an ouroborous. A chip of obsidian set into the table has been smoothed by the years until it's flush with the table's surface.

Two dart boards are set into the wall as well, should those who this snug is typically utilized by get bored. Or have a spare picture of someone they don't like.

Theme: Bar Ambience

If you look hard enough at any mirror-smooth surface, you will begin to notice the tiny bubbles, the scratches, the imperfections. If you stare long enough into a mirror, you begin to see the flaws in the mirror itself rather than the flaws in your own visage. Nikola is staring into a mirror -- at least, he's staring at the reflective surface of Kara's maternal mask, the warmth that is as much instinct as it is put-on. She truly is as caring as she seems to be, after all, for those who need it. And he is beginning to see the spots where a finger might begin to work underneath, to touch the skin beneath the shield. Draw a bloody score along the soft underside her turtle-shell decency. But for hat it is worth, the predator, too, is puzzling at this seemingly-instantaneous connection that had existed even before he helped it along. He sensed it immediately, as she had. But while Kara is unaware, just yet, of the dangers of her clouded mindset, Nikola seems to be rising above himself -- floating high on a flood of excitement, something that's shaken right through his habitual near-ennui.

Have you ever seen a man walking down the street and turned after him, suddenly sure that it was your best friend from middle school? Your best friend who has been dead for ten years, across the country from where you now walk? This -- this is something like that. Perhaps it's not reincarnation. Perhaps not. But when you grow as old as Nikola, many faces begin to look familiar. It's just that this -- this is uncanny. He seems amused rather than alarmed as she suddenly hugs her files to herself, clears her throat, drops her gaze away from him. If she were a poker player, Nikola would be certain that he had the hand. He's seen enough gamblers to recognize a dangerously-clear tell when he spots one. But he doesn't disturb her as she rearranges her documents, allows Kara the time to try to rebuild her composure.

He lets her tease him, waits for the penny to drop. After all, who hasn't heard of the Regas Strabuloj at this point? A floating casino may be common enough, but not one other can compare to his precious steamship's Dome of Sins. Ah -- there it is. She locks eyes with him once more, and he has her. He has her. Even without his Discipline, perhaps, she would have felt that electric jolt between the pair of them in the way that Nikola's unyielding focus gives her no room to back away, no room to breathe. He watches her back herself into the wall. "That's right," he agrees quietly. "The Regas Strabuloj. I named her." There is pride in his voice, pride that goes beyond some common businessman. He possesses this ship in the way some men yearn to possess a woman, utterly and completely. She is his.

He catches that wistful tone -- of course he does. Nikola misses nothing, not when he's so keyed-up as this. "Text me tomorrow," he offers simply. "You'll be my guest." As he leads her across the street at that hurtling pace, forcing her to jog to keep up, Nikola glances aside briefly to appreciate those legs, so precarious atop their heels. He doesn't bother to hide his appreciative look, letting it trail upward across her body, to the hollow of her throat, then finally to her face. They're climbing the stairs now.

Nikola is literally sweeping her off her feet with the blitzkrieg speed of his assault, intentionally stealing away the advantage of time, not allowing her to question why she's going along with this. After all, she has a boyfriend waiting for her. Doesn't she? Has she thought about him at all, since she hung up on him so quickly? He cuts through the crowd to that back snug, never letting go of her hand, gestures to the booth. "Have a seat." And as the cocktail waitress sticks her head in, Nikola beckons her over. He's still standing, still holding Kara's hand as he gestures toward her. "Whatever the woman wants," he tells the waitress. And once orders have been given, and the waitress has departed, Nikola returns the full blaze of his attention to Kara as he stands over her. "Give me your phone."

And what does Kara see, looking back at her from the 'mirror'? Honestly, it may as well be clouded with the fog of her breath.. which she suddenly realises she's been holding and surreptitiously looses through parted lips. Niko is no mirror. He's fathomless dark. And something, somewhere, in the back of her mind instinctively urges caution.. she just can't quite focus on the warning. Not while he's looking at her that way. What's wrong with her? Kara Black does not swoon. And she certainly doesn't take off with a man she just met when it's gone midnight and she should be going home and she has work to do and.. and she can't think clearly. It's not fireworks. It's not a choir in full voice. It's not a lightning strike. It's a metaphorical hand at her throat, denying her the ability to draw a lungful of air, let alone wrest her gaze from his. And that shouldn't bring with it a thrill of excitement.

Seriously.. what is wrong with her.

One would likely assume - and be correct - that ordinarily the brunette has a talent for keeping her cards close to her chest. She'll leave silences when others might seek to fill them with chatter, coaxing her clients into more forthcoming insights, no matter how reluctant or reticent they may be. An unreadable smile could be taken in any number of ways, she won't be forced into clarifying. And eye contact.. above all, she considers that important. The eyes are the windows to the soul. They tell you if someone is truly listening or merely waiting for their turn to speak. They offer clues as to motive and emotion, no matter how one may seek to disguise them with pretty or clever words. That unsettled lowering of her gaze, that oddly old world demurity in the way she tries to avoid his? That's a thing nigh unheard of from the unshakeable woman. And while she may not truly be backed against a wall.. the sensation of such is undeniable. Breathe, Kara..

She's already on the far sidewalk by the time she registers the 'invitation' from the Captain. Glancing sidelong through her lashes, she considers his expression, searching for any lack of sincerity. She finds none. No loophole. No.. no reason she can find to turn him down. So now she's going on a date with the guy? It's time to stop this tumble down the rabbithole. It really is. But she just can't quite seem to find purchase to halt her fall. Finding herself in the crowded bar, still bustling with good cheer and flowing drinks, the music kept soft enough that conversation is of a pleasant decibel level rather than throat-shredding yelling to be heard, the brunette follows still after the tall figure who has a firm grip upon her hand. No doubt at a glance they pass for just another couple, out to enjoy the nightlife after a hard day's work. Only.. Max. The name comes to her, along with a dancing recollection of blue eyes and wheat blonde hair. Ruggedly handsome. The sort one would kneejerk class as a jock but with the easy smile of a genuine 'good guy' rather than the musclebound jerks of high school. Yes, she has a boyfriend. She hadn't forgotten. But.. what's the harm in making a new friend? That stab of logic - which she isn't entirely sure is her own - puts a pin in any feelings of guilt, for the time being. She hasn't done anything wrong. Right?

Well, except perhaps ignore the way she could feel Nikola's eyes wandering over her silhouette as he led her up here. But men always look. That's not her fault.

Whew. They emerge from the crowd into the comparatively quiet booth and, at her host's behest, the young woman eases down to a seat on the padded cushion of the booth. Those doe eyes are cast upward, regarding the man in profile as he addresses the waitress, then blinking, mildly startled perhaps, when his dark gaze settles steadily upon her again. "Scotch on the rocks, with a twist." she offers toward the waitress, without a glance in her direction. She wouldn't normally be so.. dismissive. But there is something.. something. She can feel it. The oppressive strain of a breath before the plunge. And all because he's standing there looking down at her? What the fu-...

Obligingly, her free hand delves into her jacket pocket, producing the sleek cellphone and offering it out toward Niko before she can think to question why he might want it. Rousing it from standby would reveal a sweet image as the lockscreen display; Kara herself, smilingly wrapped in the embrace of a grinning, sandy blonde man, both a little windswept upon a beach somewhere. The press of her temple against his cheek, the wrap of her bare arms trustingly around his neck.. even a cursory glance would establish him as her partner. The phone, on the plus side, doesn't appear to have a password. "Just uh.. stay out of the photos." she advises, beginning to shrug out of her jacket on the side not currently held captive by his hand upon hers and offering a wicked grin. Her composure appears restored. A crowded bar equals safety, after all. No cause for concern here. "..are you serious? About the Regas?" Again, the curious tilt of head as she wriggles one arm free of her blazer.

Opacity. Other Kindred, dangerous Kindred, operate in the shadows. They eschew the limelight, cling to the obfuscating darkness as though it were a shield between themselves and the penetrating knowledge of those they prey upon. But Nikola is dangerous as well, and he has never preferred to hide himself away from the righteous in the world. No -- Nikola takes the righteous from their pedestals, grabs them about the throat, and smashes them against a wall until their perfect gleaming morality is dented, cracked, shattered. Until their pieces can only be glued back together by an act of tarnished mercy. Nikola is a destroyer, not a skulker. A bespoke hurricane, devastating one beautiful thing at a time rather than taking the broad, sweeping, view. He can ‘’sense’’ the way she wants to withdraw, the metaphorical feeling of those bricks digging into her shoulderblades. He can sense the beat of her pulse as the trap closes around her. She should have fled when she had the chance, fled before his presence slipped around her, engulfed her.

She’s slipping underwater now. He’s taken her by the ankle. He’s pulling her down to his domain.

The thing about training is that, when it is suddenly turned upon itself, people revert back to their most basic instincts. Nikola has found the crack, has slipped into the gap between Kara’s innermost nature and the front that she has held up for so long that, perhaps, even ‘’she’’ believes it to be true. Her silences are no defense -- they are opportunities, gaps, places where Nikola can slip a conversational crowbar in and begin to pry. Eye contact -- maintaining eye contact is fatal, when every time they lock eyes she can feel the electric jolt of his attention. It may well be that eyes are the windows to the soul, but what sort of soul is she faced with just now? If Nikola relents for a moment, gives her a moment to think, she may realize the danger more fully. But for now she is doing his work for him, simply because she cannot accept that she has erred so badly. She has let the wrong one in.

And as for Max? Well, he was gone the moment she hung up the phone. Oh, he may linger on in the same way that a terminal patient lingers, stubbornly fighting long past their expiration date. But Max needs nothing more than a snap of Nikola’s fingers, and those rugged good looks are -- quite literally -- forgotten. Wiped clean from the slate. And that’s if the Ventrue is feeling merciful. If he’s in a bad mood, if he feels ‘’jealous’’, for instance… Well, who knows what will spring to his mind? He’s had weeks and weeks of self-control, weeks and weeks of being forced into a role that does not suit his more savage nature. And here is such a tempting target, literally in the palm of his hand. Nikola squeezes lightly at Kara’s palm again as she mulls over the invitation. But as she says -- she’s doing nothing wrong. Right? Nothing that she need feel guilty about. His attention even as they skirt the crowds in the busy bar is ‘’entirely’’ on Kara, wholly focused. He may not know about poor Max, not really -- but he can see the fanfare of emotions on her features. Can guess that, perhaps, she is beginning to question what is happening here. Far too late for that, Kara.

And then they’re at the booth, and Nikola is looming over her as she sits. The waitress comes, takes her drink order. Nikola simply holds up two fingers when the girl looks at him, indicating either that he will be sharing Kara’s tastes or that she will be having two drinks, not one. Her doe-eyed look, when he returns his attention to her, is met with a wicked smile. Nikola doesn’t bother to hide it any longer, allowing the faint gleam of cruelty to slip above the surface. A shark’s fin, circling, circling. He can ‘’feel’’ the sudden clenching in her chest, watches the curves beneath her jacket as she takes in a slow inhalation under his stare. Leaning forward, Nikola takes the phone from her. “Thank you, Kara.” Wordlessly, single-handed, he begins to flip through the information. Certainly those pictures are given an expressionless review, one after another. Ah. Yes. Max. Quite the specimen, isn’t he? Text messages next. Just a quick scan for now, surface messages only. He’s still standing, his hand tight on Kara’s. He hasn’t spoken in almost a minute when suddenly, looking up from the phone to stare down at her, he says, “Of course I am serious. Dress to please me. I will dress to please myself. We’ll visit the Dome of Sins, and then the VIP Lounge for a quiet cocktail. Yes?”

The cocktails arrive at the table, and he glances at the waitress. There’s something in the glance that causes her to hurry out, looking briefly over her shoulder at him. Nikola settles down beside Kara, returning his gaze to her phone. He adds his own number to ‘Contacts’, sends himself a text message with the words ‘Kara Black’. He has her now. Laying the phone down atop the booth’s table, then laying his hand atop it rather than returning it, Nikola releases her hand at long last, perhaps simply to let her finish shrugging out of her jacket. His hand comes down to her thigh instead as he gazes at Kara, his own wicked grin returning full force now. “Tell me about yourself.” What little he couldn’t learn, perhaps, from that phone under his palm.

There are a few photos, should he have ignored her warning and swiped through the gallery, that might be considered a little 'provocative'.. though it's not exactly PornHub level. A few cheeky, suggestive selfies no doubt intended for her paramour, that's all. But still, the brunette fidgets just a little, shifting her weight in her seat at even the thought of the self confessed Pirate perusing these.. and the few text messages not related to work. Though again, they're nothing particularly scandalous.

<Clare> ::kiss-emoji:: Sure, see you Saturday! ::wine-emoji:: ::cocktail-emoji:: ::beer-emoji:: 
<Max> Whooooof, nice. Don't work too hard x 
<Mom> Did you call the plumber yet? 

A swift summary, then? She has plans for drinks on Saturday with a friend. Her boyfriend is very appreciative of the aforementioned selfies and concerned over her hours. And something has gone awry, presumably at home that requires a plumber but that she has neglected to address. Mothers and their nagging can always be relied upon for the inside track.

Throughout all this stalkery, the brunette has been thoughtfully considering Niko. That dangerous smile - and it is dangerous, there's no better word for it - rouses a chill prickle of concern at her nape, which she seeks to overthrow with a gentle shiver and a roll of her shoulders. But it's the faintly accusatory stare in the wake of her question that really gives her pause.. and the 'suggestions' that follow. Who does he think he is, telling her how she'll be spending her evening tomorrow? Some reflexive, long-buried aspect of her nature rebels against this, furiously. But another voice whispers honeyed assurances, promises that all will be well.. and the inarguable truth that she reluctantly must accept in the end: she knows she'll show. Still. If he thinks her some easy, pliant creature, he'll learn swiftly the error of his ways. There's the touch of the wild about Kara, beneath that tranquil surface. Something.. feral. Something that's itching for a fight, having been long suppressed. It will, however, have to settle for a subtle snark. She's nothing if not in control of her impulses. "And what exactly pleases the Pirate Captain of a Casino, these days? Should I order a wench's costume from Amazon? Maybe a peg leg and a stuffed parrot?"

She hasn't declined. But she's not offering submissive, overjoyed agreement, either. Watching Niko thumb in his contact information, eyes briefly flicking down to follow the movement, the young woman finally rids herself of her jacket, draping it neatly to her other side as her 'new friend' takes a seat.. and lays his palm much too possessively upon her slender thigh. Gently, but pointedly, she seeks to remove it with her own, to set it down upon the cushion instead, even as she speaks. It's only belatedly that she catches that wicked cast to the man's features.. but once more, she faces him down with a mutinous set to her own. "There's not much to tell." That may be true. But she's going to go right ahead and do as she is bid anyway. "I'm a Police Social Worker with NOPD. Graduated from Tulane and been here ever since." Her lips twitch in a smirk again, a hint of challenge as she circumvents the deeper implications of his phrasing. "..my favourite ice cream is Karamel Sutra and my celebrity crush is Jimmy Fallon. I've never put those two things together in a sentence before, mind you.." And that is a good reason, apparently, to lapse into a brief reverie. Good god, what sort of mental images..

If there were small mercies to be expected from this man, one of them would be that Nikola does not forward those selfies to himself. But he does certainly note them. Though his expression had remained neutral as he thumbed through the suggestive poses, Nikola's eyes have a dark, exceptionally masculine glitter in them by the time he swaps over to the text messages. He raises his brows slightly as he flips past the latest text from poor Max. Clare's name is noted, no doubt -- oh yes, we'll circle around to that later. Friends are always a valuable piece of leverage, something to be held close to one's vest. Nikola has all the cards, however. And that comment from her mother? It tells him several things he didn't know before this -- that her mother is present in her life. That she lives alone -- a supposition, but a safe one, confirmed by those selfies. That her mother is a worrier. Nikola, unversed in these modern relationships, can't really relate. Does he even remember his mother after all this time?

It's not as though he was ever unaware of Kara during this time, watching her out of the corner of his eye as he riffles through her life. She isn't trying to stop him -- perhaps feels that she can't, if the implanted notion is deep enough. But he sees that shudder, and he knows that she is beginning to feel the hairs along her shoulder-blades and atop the back of her neck begin to rise. He's felt the effects of this Discipline himself, has had the curse of knowing what was being done to him as a monster even worse than Nikola ravaged his mind and humiliated him. But it has been a few centuries. He can see her trying to rebel, trying to rally her more fiery nature. Can see the conflict, and eventually the slightly-glazed expression as the deep hypnotics take effect. When I snap my finger, quack like a duck... Nikola isn't worried. In fact, even as she tries for a bit of snark, a bit of resistance, he seems... delighted. His smile is rather condescendingly proud of her effort. But rebellion, even amusing rebellion is not to be tolerated, not from anyone. Especially not from this woman, not now -- he's already too far along his obsession. "Wear your loveliest dress." He gives a few beats for this command to sink in before issuing the next. "Make yourself appealing."

He keeps his eyes on Kara as she tries to detach his hand from her thigh. In fact, he allows it -- for a few moments. Nikola gazes at her thoughtfully, his head canting slightly. He smiles, suddenly sharp and predatory once again. Dangerous. His hand turns, encircling her wrist as she moves it aside. His focus is back on Kara now, wholeheartedly, as he draws her hand to his thigh, attempts to lay it just above his bent knee, keeping his grip in case she tries to withdraw. But otherwise, he does not shift his attention in the slightest. He's taking in everything that Kara says, her gentle rebellions and evasions noted carefully. Even the flavor of ice cream. Even the celebrity crush. Everything is data, to the right mind, and he absorbs everything that she gives him. He murmurs, the power thudding suddenly with the compressed violence of the quiet words, "Come closer to me." And then, a few moments later, he adds "Answer truthfully -- are you attracted to me?"

He told her to hand over the phone and, for the life of her, she couldn't find any reason not to. And now he's keeping it hostage beneath his palm and the table. Great.

The young woman is, certainly, beginning to feel that something is amiss here. Why is she suddenly so amenable to a man she met only a short while ago? Of course she's worrying at it, plucking futilely at threads that ultimately simply drift away rather than unraveling the mystery. Is it really just attraction? She's had boyfriends before.. plenty, in fact. Not once has she been anything approaching demure or subservient. As a matter of fact, any one of them would laugh in the face of anyone who suggested such a thing. Kara is very much her own woman - any attempt to control her would have been met with swift and fiery retaliation, were it pushed beyond her boundaries of pleasant composure. So what the fuck. Even her sarcasm is half hearted.

She holds Niko's gaze - or rather is held enthralled by it - until he's quite finished with the 'suggestion' of what she might wear. "Seriously?" The tone this time is more vehement in her rising indignance. "What do yo think this is, Fifty Shades of Grey?" Again.. she's not refusing him. She's just getting increasingly annoyed at the knowledge that she doesn't particularly want to refuse him. Leaning inward a fraction, narrowing her golden eyes just a touch, she adds with a faint sense of triumph, "..and you already think I'm appealing."

Can she tell? And if so, is it merely from the look in his eyes or some deeper insight? Either way, she's not going to willingly concede to being the only one held in sway, here. Withdrawing, she reaches abruptly for her drink. It even makes it almost to her lips before his hand closes about her other wrist. At this, she flits a glance down to the offending fingers, then back up and aside toward the Ventrue, eyeing him with a quiet wariness. Stop meeting his gaze. If only she'd make the connection. Instead, the brunette takes a hefty sip of her drink and rests the glass down atop her knee, her long legs elegantly crossed beneath the table leaving one high-heeled foot dangling. It bobs incessantly to some unheard rhythm. Beyond the booth, beyond that one way shield of glass, the nightlife continues on unaware; cheerful chatter and laughter populating the bar. Nobody has noticed them. Why would they? A gorgeous couple, clearly so taken with one another.. nobody's going to disturb their little haven of tranquility with Jagerbombs. Help won't be coming from that direction. And the waitress, judging by the way she scurried out, won't be venturing back over anytime soon. Shit.

Having suitably provoked her companion, then affected nonchalant indifference with the mouthful of Scotch, Kara now actively resists him for the first time; a gentle tug of her hand failing to keep it from coming to rest above his knee. Confusion wars with the outrage she wants to embrace, in the depths of those big eyes, her lips parting to offer a swift rebuke.. only he beats her to the punch. The tangible pressure of his will bearing down upon her own is akin to the pressure in a cabin when one makes a final descent. It muffles everything. Leaves you only able to reminisce about the good old days when your senses actually worked.

That voice, though. That she can hear perfectly well. And she finds herself sliding across the seat, closing what little distance remains between them until her thigh rests beside his. Again, she tries to free her wrist. Again she fails. Goddamnit. Helpless is not how she would ordinarily describe herself. But there's no other word, despite the simmering incredulity at his arrogance. Abandoning her glass to the tabletop, she captures her lower lip between her teeth as she contemplates Niko in kind. Somehow she knew what the next question would be. What she hadn't expected was her response. She'd firmly set aside her drink, quite prepared to tell him exactly what she thought of him. That he's a presumptuous, belligerent asshole, for starters. She even draws the breath to begin the retort. But that's simply not what comes out.

Instead, upon a rushed of an exhalation, she near whispers, "..God, yes."

The realisation of what she's done is instantaneous. There's the telling widening of her hazel-gold eyes, the soundless stammering as she tries desperately to think of a way to take it back.. the creeping warmth of rosy hue across her cheekbones. Eventually, she finds her tongue again. For all the good it does her. "I'm sorry, I.. I shouldn't have said that. I have a boyfriend." Shaking her head dazedly, she turns from the looming presence of the man beside her, free hand reaching to grab her jacket. "..I should go. It's late." She's blushing to the tips of her ears.. but it's as much quiet fury as embarassment. She's been trapped into this somehow. She just can't prove it.

Look, theres no doubt that mistakes were made tonight, alright? Nikola would be the first to admit that there has been trouble brewing since the moment he almost literally ran into Kara on the street. The moment she reminded him of -- of who she reminds him of. Even within his own mind, his memory shies violently away from who that might be. But his capture of her phone? No. That was a master-stroke.

It's a wonderful thing to know, to know from decades and centuries, that Nikola can say or do almost anything just now. She won't remember anyhow. Especially once she finishes downing these scotches. He watches her still, the intensity of his stare almost a physical thing, a dark heat, like the smoldering logs left behind in the wake of a wildfire. What Nikola can't know -- won't have the pleasure of ever knowing -- is how much of this first meeting has been influenced by that initial unfiltered collision between the two. Would she find herself subsuming her will beneath his even without the mesmerizing effects of his eyes and his voice? Perhaps not to the same extent, no. Certainly not, in point of fact. But there was something in that stare. An experiment, maybe, for another day. He can see the raging frustration beneath her subservience. He can see it -- and he relishes it. Lets her self-directed anger and confusion wash over him. He's practically licking his lips.

When she bursts out, Nikola smiles, letting his teeth press down onto his lower lip as he tilts his head slightly. The reference to Fifty Shades of Grey elicits a sudden, genuine, burst of laughter from the bearded Pirate Lord. He leans forward slightly as he answers. His voice is infuriatingly composed, and obscenely arrogant. He might as well be lifted out of that particularly terrible smut. "What do I think this is, Kara Black?" There's a caress in his voice as he says her name, almost a rumbling purr in his accented baritone. It's time to crack the whip. "This is whatever I want it to be. I could have you now, here, on this table. I could have you on your knees before me. I could have you dancing atop the table." And there is iron-hard truth in the words. He knows it. She knows it. "Instead, I am asking you to wear your most appealing dress, and to enjoy an evening aboard my ship. Say 'thank you.'"

There is a faint pause after that command before he adds, "And yes. I do. But that, I am afraid, is not to your benefit."

It would have been obvious from the looks, from the way he stares at her with a hunger that's been centuries in the making. He watches her go for her drink, even as his hand encircles her wrist, drags it onto his thigh. There is strength in the monster's grip, strength that has nothing to do with the mesmerism. And the callused grip on her arm is sure, confident. If one could diagnose such a thing from touch alone, they would say he had been trained. But she meets his gaze again, gives him his power over her. No -- there is no rescue coming for Kara, no white knight charging to the rescue. The white knight has already arrived, after all. And he has fangs. Nikola tightens his grip on her wrist slightly -- he's careful, though, not to hurt her. That wouldn't do at all, not at all. She'd be left sitting there, wondering why he was here, wondering why she was here. And now she's sliding across the booth to nestle against him, and his free arm lifts from her phone. He lays his hand lightly on the back of Kara's neck, coiling her hair around his fingers.

He can feel her will, crammed into a smaller and smaller space beneath his own, can feel the pressure building up as he squeezes. Squeezes her down. This would be the moment her ears would begin to pop, in that descending plane. This would be the moment she was squeezed down into her seat, hands gripping the armholds, praying for an easy descent. And thus, he presses out the question, forces the honest answer. His teeth flash at that response -- unexpected for her, optimistically anticipated for him. Some things cannot be feigned. Some things cannot be manipulated. The attraction had been real all along, after all.

His mouth is open slightly, tongue running along his upper teeth now, as he watches her blush, watches her mouth work soundlessly as she tries to find the words to take it all back. But that's the thing about the truth. Once it escapes into the world, that cannot be undone. "I don't care about your boyfriend Max in the slightest," Nikola says, toying with the hair wrapped around his finger. He gives a light tug -- not enough to be painful -- as Kara begins to scramble for her jacket. The bearded Ventrue lets her grab it, but -- as she's no doubt realizing, as the blush darkens her gold-kissed features -- he hasn't told her that she can go. "You will stay," he says simply. "Tell me a secret."

Generally speaking, it's never been a crime to appreciate a good looking person. A rare feast for the eyes. It happens all the time; meeting the gaze of a stranger in a crowded bar, noticing that attractive figure strolling the opposite direction in the street, espying someone of fleeting interest while waiting at an intersection. It's human nature. And there's no harm in it. Or.. there wasn't until tonight. Even through her befuddled, conflicted state Kara knows, she knows she shouldn't be here. Certainly she shouldn't be so affected by a mere look or command.. that's not her. But with no way of knowing what she's up against, what chance does she really stand of resisting him? It's not fair. She wants to grit her teeth and deny all. To toss the remainder of her drink in that arrogantly smirking face and stalk out of here, head held high. That's what she wants.

..Isn't it?

Having collected her jacket, the brunette drapes it over her forearm, telegraphing as clearly as she can her intent to depart.. despite the lack of cooperation from her legs. The flush of warmth has cooled from her cheeks, but the glassy quality remains overlaid upon those big pretty eyes even as they return to his; smoldering fury clashing with scorching heat. For God's sake, stop looking at him.. you lose every time. Finding Niko already inclined closer toward her, there's a flash of the young woman's throat as she swallows hard, instinctive adrenaline flooding her senses. A thrill of excitement or fear? The two seem oddly intermingled. Usually she's far better at sorting through emotions.. that's her job. But when the Ventrue utters her name in that near-purring timbre, the incensed indignance in her expression falters, giving way to something else entirely beneath. Just for a splitsecond. The arrogant assumption that follows, in regard to what he could do with her, right now, if he so desired, ought to elicit a sharp response. Wound within the fabric of her coat, her fingers tighten reflexively as her gaze wanders Niko's expression.

"Thank you." The reply is automatic, following his implication, and so soft-spoken it's little more than a whisper. Is there any consolation to be found, as he toys with her, in his admission of the appeal being mutual? ..no. As a matter of fact, the sentiment rouses a shuddering sense of dread and anticipation somewhere in her core as a truth becomes, in an instant, irrevocable. He's going to be the death of her. Of course, the turn of phrase is, in her mind, metaphorical only.

Still held firm at her slender wrist, her other hand clutching her jacket in her lap, Kara tenses visibly at the settle of the man's fingers at her nape, beneath the cool silk of her hair; allowing her eyes to drift closed as her elegant jawline tightens, pulse thudding visibly within that graceful neck. Still pressed against his thigh, her high heeled feet awkwardly pigeon-toed, knees pressed firmly together, the brunette tries to ground herself, drawing on all her years of calming techniques. Focus on each sense in turn, find something in your environment to consider. Alright. Touch. She can start there.. and she can ignore the tug of his fingers, twining around a lock of her dark mane. Touch. Her own fingertips flex fractionally to and fro, rubbing at the lush material of her jacket, pressing a fold of it between thumb and forefinger as she draws and looses a steadying breath. In for five, hold for seven, out for six. Good. Good start. Sound? That's more of a challenge, in the clamour of the bar.. but she focuses on the bass of the music beneath the general uproar. Five. Seven. Six. Taste now. The earthy tang of Scotch yet lingers on her lips, and she swipes at them thoughtfully with the tip of her tongue.. I don't care about your boyfriend.. Fuck. She'd been making progress until he spoke again.

Opening her eyes, Kara turns an expression of mildly frowning hurt upon the man beside her, clearly of a mind to inform him, very simply, that while he may not, she certainly does. She wishes, wildly and hopelessly, for Max for a fleeting moment.. only to reconsider as she imagines how this little tableau might look to him, were he to walk in right now. Just another bar added to her cage. Protest begins to play across her dark features in immediate response to Niko's demand that she stay.. but it fades without ever coming to voice as he requests something surprisingly.. easy. A secret.

But what kind of secret? Judging by the molten heat in his gaze as he studies her with that inscrutable intensity, he's not interested in trite details. He wants dirt, does he? Fine. Smoothing her own features, stubbornly affecting an appearance of superficial calm, she offers him a snippet of insight. "Alright... though will you tell me one, in return?" If she's going to be trapped here, she may as well learn about him, too. Right? Regardless, she does as she is bid. There's no alternative. "When I was younger.. I did a stint in juvey. I was always fighting and causing trouble and eventually.. there was no other option." Her gaze lowers as she speaks, unseeingly considering her hand, held firm atop Niko's thigh.

Many things are forbidden not because they are, in any real sense, immoral. They are forbidden because they are dangerous. The law requires that you wear a seatbelt. It requires that you use your blinkers, that you register your vehicle, that you sleep eight hours before piloting a commercial aircraft. There is no law -- yet -- about catching the eye of a handsome stranger, of course. Maybe there ought to be. Would Kara have been protected, if she were forbidden to meet Nikola's eye at that first, coincidental, brush? Would she now be sitting here, unable even to summon the agency to fight back against an assault that strikes from every metaphysical and sensual angle? Does Nikola seem to be the sort of creature that obeys traffic laws? Make ogling illegal, and only the monsters will ogle. But is it really his mesmerism that keeps her from throwing that drink? He hasn't forbidden it. Maybe there's something else at work here.

Nikola smiles as Kara folds her jacket across her arm. A more modern creature would call her 'spunky' or 'fierce', but the bearded Ventrue is an observer of the twenty-first century, not really a participant. His slang is still, if he's not careful, two centuries out of date. He'd call her a spitfire. As she looks at him, her fury locking onto his hot-iron stare, Nikola lets her see a slow, slow, smile. Draws it out, lazy and wicked. Are his incisors just ever-so-slightly too long? It's hard to tell. His gaze flickers down toward her throat as she swallows, then deliberately back up to her eyes, taking his time. He watches her betray herself, watches the anger as it finds a surprisingly different sensation already infiltrating. "That's right," he whispers. "You would enjoy it."

And then, louder, perfectly polite, he responds "You're welcome." Well, manners are free, aren't they? And his suited elegance, his swept-back hair, even the crisp knot of his tie all speak to a man who values manners. There's that shudder again as she considers his words, as she finds she agrees with him. Being attractive to Nikola is not a good thing. Not unless you enjoy servitude. Some Carthian, this.

Nikola himself forgets to breathe as Kara closes her eyes, as the pulse in her neck grows even more visible. He looks down at her lap, notes the way her knees press desperately together. Body language -- he may not be as analytically-trained as the woman he is systematically besieging, but centuries of experience have taught him enough to read a person by their language. And this just won't do. He needs to find a way to break through the crust, needs to find something to touch her in a way that his Discipline cannot. Obedience is one thing. A genuine connection is another. As she begins to retreat into herself, as she begins to find the self-soothing techniques to center herself, Nikola deliberately derails the train with his next words. It doesn't take much. A simple comment on Max, and her attention has returned to him, wide-eyed and frowning. It's not the desire he needs to elicit, but it's attention, and that's the thing. She does not get to retreat into her Mind Palace.

When she turns that hurt little frown on him, Nikola's smile gentles slightly. He speaks again in that same rumbling purr, the accent in his voice growing richer, more vibrant. "You're here with me. You don't even live with him. I don't think Max is the man for you, Kara." His hand cups lightly at the nape of Kara's neck, thumb resting atop her pulse. "Do you?"

But now she is telling him her secret. Nikola considers Kara thoughtfully, absently pressing his thumb into the meat of her palm, drawing it in and out of her encircled fist, his palm still pinning her wrist into place. "You're an angry woman, Kara. But you struggle to contain that. You fight against your own base nature. Do you think it makes you more moral? Resisting?" There's no judgement here -- genuine curiosity, instead. And when she asks him for his own secret, Nikola considers it. He really does. After a few moments, leaning aside until his lips are against Kara's ears, he whispers, "You look just like my wife, before she died." Just for a moment, Nikola presses his forehead against Kara's temple, his skin surprisingly cool. He straightens a bit. "Tell me about your work. Do you ever deal with criminal enterprises?"

Maybe maybe maybe. Shoulda woulda coulda. Neither one of them will ever really know how things might have gone, under different circumstances. And it frankly doesn't matter much.. she's here now. To paraphrase a certain wizard, things have been set in motion now that cannot be undone. And the point is that he chose to bring this about. All of it. Whether for amusement of devilry, who's to say. The end result is the same and Kara is perilously out of her depth here. Though that's not what stays her hand from retaliation. All else aside, even were every transgression forgiven.. it's her core beliefs that she can cling to. And she won't lower herself to lashing out at him, no matter how tempting it may be.

That, ultimately, may simply make things much worse for her. That refusal to be cajoled to an outburst of aggression. But how could she possibly know that?

Flitting her gaze back and forth, now that it has risen once more, between the Ventrue's dark eyes and that slow curve playing across his sensual mouth, the brunette's expression might best be described as sullen.. though there's just a hint of reluctant curiosity within the nuances that keep her from quite pulling off the sought for impression of disinterest. Does she notice anything amiss with his pearly white teeth? No, it doesn't appear so. In fairness, she's perhaps distracted by the whispered assurance offered. Oh yes.. that gets a reaction.

Kara values manners, too. But she also knows the power to be found in casting them aside, when the occasion calls for it. For most anyone else, it would be a shock tactic from the elegant, composed woman. For the man beside her, she knows deep down it won't surprise him. At best it might piss him off. But the longer he spends contemplating her - the inner workings of her mind as well as her obvious feminine appeal - the more some inner turmoil rises to the fore. She has the nature of a wolf, goddamnit.. and that feral instinct is now more visibly roused to genuine annoyance; flashing with warning in the gold-flecked depths of her eyes at that meaningful implication. How dare he assume to know what she'd enjoy? "You're an arrogant bastard."

Beyond the glass that separates the booth from the rest of the busy establishment, there's uproarious discussion of heading elsewhere for karaoke, within the generally dizzying mish-mash of conversation; a masculine voice nearby bellowing the notion and swiftly met with whoops and cheers of agreement. The normal world seems suddenly very far away, however. On any other night, Kara might have been among their number. Or perhaps she'd be at home, eating ramen and poring over the day's reports, with Netflix filling the silence of her apartment. Maybe at Max's place, contentedly dozing and exchanging pillow talk, sheets and limbs entangled in the aftermath of lovemaking. Anywhere but here.

The light rest of Niko's thumb atop her pulse draws her back to the immediate situation with a blink; the pressure making her aware of just how elevated her heart rate is. That's not a good thing. She needs to keep an eye on that. Drawing a deep inhalation, loosing it just as slowly, the brunette regards Niko levelly; a distinct sense of resolve within her reply. "Yes, I do. I love him." It's another flare of defiance, given the leeway to offer it. "Agreeing to a drink with you doesn't change that.. Nikola." Following suit, she addresses him, for the first time, by his given name, even affecting the accent in it's pronunciation, tasting the unfamiliar subtlety on her tongue.

As the conversation turns to safer territory, to some extent, Kara abandons her jacket across her lap, freeing her hand from beneath it to reach for her Scotch, buying herself a moment to consider her answers. "I think anyone who witnesses the cruelties and injustices of the world ought to be angry.. and to use that anger to affect real change rather than adding to the problem." The glass is cool against her plush lower lip as she takes a sip, lashes dark upon high cheekbones as her eyes flutter closed to savor the flavor. "..and the path of least resistance has never been the one for me. Does that make me better than anyone else? No. But does fighting against my lesser impulses make me moral? Yes.. I think it does. It bespeaks a certain strength of character, in comparison to simply giving in." Shifting her weight, forcing herself to relax, or at least give the appearance of doing so, she stiffly crosses her legs at the knee once more, resting her glass atop the uppermost. She might have warmed further to the topic - it's certainly more familiar territory than debating the uses for the circular table they sit at - but then Niko is leaning closer. Too close. She freezes, having just settled in her new posture, as his lips press against her ear. The whispered revelation, the almost-explanation of his sudden and overwhelming fascination with her, is breathed across her skin. He's too close. But she doesn't withdraw. Doesn't push him away or turn her cheek, even as he rests his brow briefly against her temple. Her response is far more simple.

"I'm sorry."

For the loss of his wife, or for her own fate in resembling her? There is certainly a softening, a sympathy that wasn't there before, when he pulls back from her and she can look upon him again. She's a counsellor. And she actually cares about people. But, as he proves willing to move on from the topic, she doesn't force therapy upon him. Honestly, professional duty aside, she's still holding to the simmering resentment enough that she'd be loathe to offer it even if he did ask. So, what's next in this dizzying, ridiculous storm that is their first encounter? Oh.. her work. Yes. That she can discuss safely. "Sometimes. I operate out of the NOPD as a Social Worker. It's mostly crisis intervention for non-criminal emergencies.. but every now and then I'll be asked to attend scenes to assist the police." She doesn't wonder aloud why he would ask about the criminal aspect, specifically. But it doesn't go unnoticed.

Listen, now. There are endless junctures in the world, endless paths that were never traveled by at all. Endless vines that were cut short before they blossomed. Grow old enough, exist long enough, and you have seen a story play out again, and again, and again, variations spinning endlessly. Nikola knows -- none better -- that the only way ensure survival is to act. Always act -- always be the first to move. That which acts cannot be destroyed. So yes -- he has started this. Not even Nikola can fully define the reasons. And though he does not fully grasp why Kara doesn't hurl her drink into his face, doesn't expend smoky scotch to quench the fire, he can sense that it is a decision. That she, too, is acting, is no passive traveler drawn along by currents she cannot understand.

Pacifists -- Desmond Doss, for instance -- have the courage of their beliefs to keep them warm on cold nights, certainly. But it is a hard life they choose, and Kara's principles are certainly not going to make her path any easier.

Nikola watches as Kara looks between his lips and his eyes, watches that faint kernel of curiosity begin to warm and grow. A kinder creature might have let it blossom further, might have allowed her to develop the sort of interest that would make this easier for her, this long and inevitable journey that she is just beginning to walk down. But Nikola is a perverse sort of creature; he says what he says. If there is no fight, there is no game. And he enjoys chasing down his game. In some ways, Nikola is as feral as any werewolf. Like recognizes like -- the ferocity that rises up, the genuine annoyance, spark a widening of Nikola's eyes. Not in fear. No, there's a deep pleasure in those wide dark eyes as Kara's molten gold glare fixes on him. "I am the most arrogant bastard that you have ever met," he agrees. There is mockery in his voice, and more than that -- a simple acknowledgement of the truth. "Shall I demonstrate, however, that I am telling the truth?"

There is salvation just on the other side of the glass, if only she could get to it -- a crowd, to escort her to the safety of that karaoke bar. An Uber, to take her to the warmth of her lover's bed. Just on the other side of that glass. But a two-way mirror has a strange effect on people -- it turns them into observers, not participants. That world is lost to her now. She has slipped between a crack in the floorboards, has dropped downward -- been drawn downward -- into another world entirely.

His hand on the back of Kara's neck, his thumb on her pulse, Nikola watches Kara snatch her attention back to him and this place and this danger. He can feel the blood coursing through her, can imagine the taste of her fear and desire and anger, all intermingled. A cocktail for a creature who has no need of alcohol. He doesn't need to say a word to foil her attempts at calming herself. Instead, Nikola lets her hand go, reaches up to stroke his hand across her stomach, just below the ribs. He's watching her eyes as he touches her, fingertips and palms pressing possessively into the taut warmth of her skin. Her response elicits another smile, and Nikola commands -- almost gently -- "Pick up your phone. Take a picture. Do not delete it." He jerks his chin to the phone sitting on the table, continues to stroke Kara's neck and stomach lightly, never looking away from her. "I want you to always remember our first drink, darling."

But they move on -- conversations always move on, sometimes violently shifting from topic to topic. And now it is to the philosophy of pacifism that they turn. He absently presses his tongue to the scar on the corner of his mouth as he stares, drinking in the interplay of light across Kara's features. His own olive complexion is dark in the shadows of the booth, hair catching a fragment of light, a hint of auburn highlight evident in the locks. "Violence has solved more arguments than any other force in the world, Kara Black. Don't believe me? Hold a debate between Hitler and Napoleon. The dodo, the carrier pigeon, and the Great Awk can referee." Nikola is quoting something -- and in fairness, he doesn't seem particularly invested. Merely proposing a counterargument, as though he and Kara were having a friendly philosophical debate. But then he has her hair in his nose, holds her scent in his long-dead lungs. Her apology doesn't arouse much response from him, apart from a simple "..It was very long ago." He doesn't look old enough for anything to have been very long ago, does he?

And the ambiguity? He lets that pass. If she is as smart as she appears to be, and if she is as merciful as she appears to be, she means both things. Professional duty might require that she comfort him in his time of grief, but the truth is that Nikola has passed from grief long, long, ago. Anger, yes. Anger always stays. Anger lives within him like the eye-wall of a hurricane. But he has moved into the realm of work, now -- as, eventually, he had to. Even on a night of pleasure, Nikola Senjan remembers duty -- and survival. That which acts cannot be destroyed. The newly-fledged Sheriff of New Orleans had best hope that is true, patience being such a flaw in his nature. "Bring me documents. Names of criminals. Names of organizations. Locations." These instructions are murmured in the same soft tones as he had spoke about his wife; his fingers press sharply into her stomach.

"Do not think I will take something for nothing. The next time that you come upon a patient you cannot save, do not call the police. Call me." The offer may be surprising to those who do not know Nikola, but there is a certain code that even he lives by. Nikola Senjan protects those who belong to him. "I will save them for you. You have my word. Now -- our evening together is drawing to a close, Kara Black. Drink your drink. All the way down. I will give you one final present, and I will kiss you good night. Until tomorrow."

An untempted soul may be innocent, but cannot be virtuous, for virtue is the choice of right when wrong presses itself upon us and demands our choosing. If this night has been a test of her morality in the face of temptation, then she has been precariously dancing a knife edge.. and Niko is the one wielding the blade, watching her struggle to keep balance as he idly turns it this way and that. And there's an ominous understanding, unspoken, perhaps unrealised between them.. that one day it will draw blood, twisting within her. He revels in inflicting pain, certainly.. but not in a casual, careless manner. He'll take his time. One needn't be a mind reader to assume this much - he's making no secret of how tantalising he finds the idea. It's written in the way he watches her, the delight in his smile when Kara tries valiantly to push back against the inexplicable and crushing hold he takes upon her will. She'll fight to the last. And that, perhaps, is what has doomed her.

The calm assent in response to what had been intended as a barb leaves a trace of confusion, one that seeps into the fiery autumnal hues of the young woman's gaze, interlocked with his relishing approval. Those glassy eyes widen in kind as he threatens a demonstration, a glance stolen sidelong to the tabletop before her attention returns to him; a first flicker of genuine fear rising, a ripple of tension that meanders throughout her every fibre. He wouldn't.. would he?

Salvation. Does such a thing exist at all, beyond her desirous imagining? What, after all, could anyone really do to keep the Ventrue from something he has chosen to play with? If he can have a woman like Kara Black questioning herself, scrambling for argument on the worthiness of her own soul, what hope have those who have no such righteous morality with which to arm themselves? No.. no, she wouldn't place others in harm's way for her own benefit. And that, she understands on a very base, instinctive level, is what it means to court the obsessive fascination of this powerfully enigmatic and commanding man. His line of sight is the way of harm.. and she has, indeed, been drawn in.

A soft sound escapes the young woman, unbidden, at that first lazy touch to her midsection. Protest. Yes, she managed to protest, albeit without verbalising.. and, for a splitsecond, he might enjoy the awareness of having elicited a wordless plea from that furious, defiant gaze. But when he presses no further than to demand she immortalise the moment with a photograph, she seizes on the vague nature of his words as a lifeline. Forced to press a little further against his palm as she leans forward, the brunette sets down her drink on the gleaming tabletop, reaching a little past Nikola in order to retrieve her cellphone with the other hand. Obligingly, it's raised, her thumb accessing the camera with the habitual ease those of this generation employ for such tasks. But if he expected a suggestive selfie with a near-stranger in a dim-lit booth.. well, too bad. The atmospheric lighting from beyond the one-way glass lends an atmospheric, editorial nature to the picture she snaps of her half-finished Scotch. Inwardly, she permits herself a momentary glimmer of triumph. If this is how the game is to be played between them.. then she will learn, and learn swiftly to find any means necessary to keep that fingernail-grip on her own free will. Almost absent-mindedly comes the response to Niko's counterargument as she calmly saves the photo and locks her cell, laying it in her lap atop her jacket, with her palm pressed possessively over it this time. "I've heard it all before, Nikola. It's not a lifestyle choice that most understand." Pause. "But I doubt it'll bring about extinction, no matter how heated the debate."

Her eyes drift closed, fleetingly, as he inhales deeply of her scent.. until she realises they have done so and snaps them open abruptly once more. And, in turn, they drift incredulously toward the gorgeous, dark-featured man beside her as he 'requests' information of a certain nature. Murmurs his desires in that same intoxicating, low-throated timbre that so beguiles and confuses her. Not for the first time tonight, she seems about to argue. Risk her job? For him? He must be joking. But the sudden sharp pressure of his fingers below her ribs robs the words from her before they can be uttered, leaving only a hushed exhalation to convey her indignation.. and unspoken agreement. This is madness. But then, the threads of reality seemed to begin tangling the moment she locked eyes with him on the street, and try as she might any attempt to undo that now only tightens the knots.

Drink. Yes, drink is a suggestion she can get on board with. She's a pacifist, not a saint.. and alcohol is an old friend when it comes to numbing the harsh realities of her existence. Kara scoops up the glass, the remnants of melting ice cubes clinking and sloshing audibly as she brings it to her lips and knocks back what remains of the Scotch. It burns as it courses down her throat, but she couldn't care less. If anything, a tangible, physical discomfort is perhaps a foothold on her climb back up from the depths of this new underworld with her own personal Hades. She hisses inward through her teeth as the vessel is emptied, setting it back down firmly and offering Niko a baleful look aside. There. Maybe now he'll let her go. Wait. What was that last part..? "You sure as hell won't." she admonishes, looking scandalized at the idea. Taking up her jacket, continuing to ignore the hand resting ominously at her blouse, she angles and arches herself in order to sling it on in a practised manner, both hands rising to her nape to draw her long tresses from beneath the collar.. and finding his hand still there. Shit. The glance she offers him next is wary. Has she pushed him too far, with this 'no'?

Nikola burns 1 Vitae to activate Iron Edict.

Tests -- tests and virtue. If Nikola were an Angel, sent from the God that Kara struggles so hard to believe in, he could not have tested her more deliberately than he has tonight. The knife's edge that she walks upon, the knife that he wields, is far more than the loss of sacrifice of virtue. Virtue is not some ineffable quality, not something that vanishes like fog in sunlight. No -- it is constantly replenishing itself, constantly returning from the darkness. You cannot go to the well too many times and empty it -- the reservoir is deep, deeper than the oceans. Shame, then, that what Nikola intends to excise from Kara is not virtue at all. This knife is here to cut away her understanding of that unstrained quality, to cut away her iron-latticed will to do the right thing. When Nikola is finished with his emotional surgery, the pain will be the only virtue left to her. Her pride will become the chain -- has already become the chain -- that runs from her neck to his wrist. Let her fight on, let her drag herself deeper into the quagmire. Until he is the only lifeline left. Until he is all that matters.

It's a beautiful thing, that look on her face -- the confusion at his own poise, at his acknowledgement of his own sins. Yes, he is the most arrogant bastard she has ever met -- and yes, he knows it. He follows her glance down to the tabletop for a moment, raising an eyebrow subtly as he looks back to her. She knows -- he can see she knows -- that if he were to command it, she would obey. It must be terrifying to sense that powerlessness, to not understand why a creature has such a spell over her. To be forced to doubt her very core. Is she truly so fragile that a chance encounter could take her, smash her like an idol? No. Kara Black is not fragile at all, is as hard as concrete -- the trick will be to make her forget it. And it does not start atop a table in a dirty pub. He meets that gaze, that fear, and lets his gaze drop down to Kara's chest, down to her lap, then back up to her face. And shakes his head, slowly, his grin cruel as the knife. "Not yet."

There are worlds in which salvation does come -- even paths where, at the last moment, dear Max arrives with the weaponry required to drive away the shadow. But would it be salvation? No. Salvation comes from within, doesn't it? If Kara is going to save herself, free herself, she is going to have to do it herself. But what weight will she be cutting free of? What anchors will be left behind? A hint: Not Nikola. As his hand comes down on her stomach, as she manages that soft protest, Nikola shakes his head subtly. He draws his fingers along her blouse as she picks up the phone, takes the picture. His dark eyes are twinkling now as he sees what has been snapped. Well, fair enough -- truth be told, he hadn't worded it carefully enough. She will now remember, forever, their first drink. "You should have that framed," he murmurs. But there is something in the words -- some latent threat. Defiance is never forgotten, with this man. There is always a reckoning.

Is he aware of the way his presence has affected her? Aware that, despite her best efforts, she is beginning to stir and warm against him? Is he aware of the way her temperature has begun to rise beneath his fingers, as her eyes drift shut? Yes. It would take a far more obtuse Vampire than Nikola is to miss those sorts of signs. It's not evolutionary, not really, this ability -- but one might fairly call it an inherited trait. And he senses the moment when she tenses beneath his touch, senses the way her gaze settles onto his features, turns his head subtly to watch her. He feels the breath leave her diaphragm as he drags his nails lightly along her blouse, feels the rasp of the fabric beneath his touch. But she does not protest. Of course she does not -- she cannot. Even if she remembers nothing of this night, she'll know what she needs to do. He's made sure of that. The knotted cord has slipped tight around her throat now.

His hand continues to stroke at her stomach as she grabs the Scotch and downs it in one fiery swallow, alternatingly fingertip and fingernail -- never painfully sharp, but far from gentle. A constant reminder of his presence, even as his other hand gives her hair a light little tug, like a pet-owner taking the slack out of a leash. If she thinks that alcohol will make this escape easier, will help her to clear her head and scale the cliff, well -- others have thought so, in the past. Others have thought that warmth would protect them on cold winter nights, when the very air freezes and turns water to mist. They, too, were disappointed.

He doesn't stop her as she protests, doesn't stop her as she puts on her jacket, wriggling around his hand at her belly. As she flicks her locks of hair down, encounters his hand resting on the nape of her neck, Nikola smiles. It's the triumphant look of a jaguar, just as it drops from the tree onto its prey. Just before its claws snap the creature's neck beneath their weight. It's the killing look -- no humor, all satisfaction. No warmth or humanity there at all, really.

When he speaks next, his voice is like a whip, like a scalpel. His voice goes deep, deep into the places where memories hide, and it cuts. This, then, is his present to her. A parting gift -- at least until the next evening. "Immediately when my lips touch yours, you remember that you seemed inexplicably drawn to me from the very first moment," he says in that quiet, surgically precise voice. "You remember that you drank too much Scotch to calm your nerves. You remember nothing about tonight clearly, before the kiss, just those impressions." There is no need for more -- no need to reinforce commands that had already sunk into her mind like tiny hooks, digging into the tiny pieces of her that defined who she was -- and tugging, ever-so-slightly. Drawing her off-course, for the rest of her life. All the rest will become ephemera, never quite coming into focus, even without his final command. Some present.

The hand on the back of Kara's neck is suddenly painfully tight, digging in hard at the pressure-point there as Nikola forces her head toward his. He rests his forehead against hers for a moment, not quite touching her lips. His other hand slips upward along her body until it encircles her throat, tightening. Tightening. He holds Kara there like that, with the sights and sounds of the party on the other side of the one-way mirror, until the strength begins to bleed from her. He turns her head slightly, makes sure she can see that distant escape with fading vision -- and then, finally, he brushes his lips against hers, hand loosening just before.

"It was lovely to meet you, Kara. Get home safe -- I'll see you tomorrow."