Face to Face

As Ciara turned the portrait to face Daniel, Mr. Alverston, she was no longer quite sure what to call him - one seemed to informal, the other far too formal considering the way she felt at the moment - Ciara looked instead at his face. The portrait she had sketched seemed to overlay his face in her mind's eye. The stillness inside her that had replaced the frantic passion of her muse, or whatever one wanted to call it, left her feeling like the world held its breath. It was not a stillness built of calm, merely one built of waiting.

How would he react?

She had to look away after a moment, even the stillness not protecting her from the questions that began to paint themselves across the canvas of her mind. Looking at him, seeing both the man who she had encountered at the party and that other who peeked out from his eyes, it was too much. The most obvious question was simply one of identity. Who was he? Or what was he? She knew, in that way she had never fully understood, that he was not human. At least, he was not like any other man she had met, nor any woman. There was something fundamentally different to him that she could not wrap her mind around.

Slowly, she saw him reach for her sketchbook, his fingers closing hesitantly around the edge. It seemed to come both from reluctance to touch the paper and a hesitancy to take something she might be unwilling to relinquish. Without a word she pressed the book into his hands, letting him take it. And she held her breath.

Her eyes returned to his face and she saw his eyes move, his gaze darting over the page as though looking for a trick. Scepticism lurked there in his gaze, a tightening around his eyes, a muscle standing out in relief along his jaw. The sketch was clearly not what he had expected. At that point she should be worrying about his patronage, so newly promised, worried that it would vanish before it began. Instead, she found herself worrying about things much more concrete like her freedom and her life.

But why? As she watched him examine the sketch, his eyes glued to the page as though she had vanished, she considered the realization that she truly was afraid of what he might do. She knew nothing that would suggest he would be likely to harm her. There had been no rumours of temper, no violence, no danger associated with him. Until she had finished the sketch she would never have considered him to be threatening. Now... well now she had begun to suspect just how much he truly concealed.

The face she had drawn was a face of guile and cunning, a face of one who could easily be capricious. Handsome, certainly, but not in the conventional way. It was too strong, to angular, as though some softness was missing from it. And yet, thinking back to how she had seen him while she drew, she knew she had seen possibility of great care. He was a man who would do much for those he deemed worthy.

The silence lengthened and it left her conscious of the fact that she was wearing only her lingerie and overalls. A blush stained her cheeks, perhaps a little out of place considering her apprehension, but she had only just become aware of just how inappropriately she had stripped off her dress while she was in the throes of the muse.

She felt his gaze on her, and as she met his eyes she saw something of the predator there. Her throat suddenly dry, she swallowed convulsively and fisted her hands in the baggy material of the overalls where they covered her thighs. The scrape of dried paint on her palms was comforting but not enough to allow her to relax. It might be cliched, but she felt very much like a mouse who had realized a cat was about to pounce.

His head tilted, still silently, and she drew a nervous breath as she felt his gaze slide over her skin. She had always thought the idea of a gaze having weight or texture was a bit silly, but suddenly she understood. A shudder, and she inhaled again. This time she realized that she smelled something foreign, that the scent of her workspace that she took for granted was no longer as expected. Her brain couldn't process it, but it niggled at the back of her brain.

"How..." he broke off, shoving fingers through his hair, and it was as though the gesture pulled away some subtle mask. His face was the one she had drawn, not the one everyone had seen at the party. His hair had more tones, his eyes were more shadowed, his fingers longer and a little more elegant. The better to wrap around your throat, she thought, and horrified laughter choked in her throat. He shook his head impatiently as though trying to gather his thoughts.

"Who are you? What are you?" he asked, a fierceness in his voice that made her think of thunder for some reason. Her eyes widened just a little and nervous laughter finally broke from between her lips.

"Shouldn't I be the one asking you that?" She gestured at the sketch with one hand, noting that he had laid the sketchbook across his lap, the drawing face-up, while he leaned forward, invading her personal space. Again she caught the scent that seemed not to belong, but it just was not one she could quite figure out. She was a little busy, understandably, worrying about the man seated in front of her.

His eyes narrowed slightly, and then suddenly he laughed. It was a sound that startled her. Too pure, too immediate. It was not the laugh of one conscious of those around them, but the laugh of one who simply found mirth and revelled in it. "I suppose you would have as much right to ask it as I, but I asked it first. So tell me." The laughter had momentarily lit his face, but suspicion had returned despite the amusement that seemed to lurk at the corners of his eyes and lips.

"You know who I am. I have little doubt you have already investigated me. My name is Ciara Fitzpatrick, I was born in a small town in the middle of nowhere, and I am an artist. I hope to be a successful artist." There was a pause, one in which she considered the rashness of the words that wanted to spill from her mouth, one in which she found she could not fully hold them back. "And I'm human," the words spilled out, dangerous words she wished she could take back. But in that instant she also knew it was too late.

One dark brow arched on his face and his lips curved in a hint of a smile. It did not, however, reach his eyes. Not yet. "That is hardly an answer to the question we both know I was really asking. I want to know who you are that you could sketch this. I am well aware you are human. Aren't we all?"

This time it was her eyes that narrowed at the last remark, and she found anger flaring to life inside her. She liked it quite a bit better than the tension that filled her, the tension that smelled a little too much like fear. But anger was rarely a good thing for Ciara. Bad enough she blurted out stupid things without thinking normally; anger made her that much less likely to consider her words before she spoke them. "No. We obviously aren't. And I have no idea how I draw like that, or paint. Assuming you mean the fact that I drew you the way you really are?" At his nod, she tugged her knees up to her chest, heels hooked on the edge of the sofa, arms wrapped around her shins. Curling herself into a protective ball, but she needed that comfort even if it revealed her unease.

"I've just always been able to. Not all the time. Not for everyone. But some people I see that way when I sketch." It was as much as she was going to explain to him, or at least as much as she would willingly say. She was not going to elaborate on the muse that drove her, on the rush of need to draw that overwhelmed her. Nor was she going to add that she always knew when it was going to be one of those times.

His hand snaked out, faster than she expected, and his finger and thumb gripped her chin, tightening his grip until she met his eyes. They were unexpected. All the shades of green with dapples of gold playing over them. Changing as though sun shone through the trees and shadows dappled a clearing, clouds scudding overhead to disturb the picture. A fanciful notion and she wondered if it was one she could ever manage to capture on canvas. Then a little more pressure on her jaw and she winced, brought back to the moment at hand with a little whimper of pain mingled with fear, the anger driven back for the moment.

"You can keep your secret for the moment, I suppose. But I think we have something to discuss." He lifted a corner of the sketchbook to draw her attention to it. "I have no wish to explain this. Others are well aware of your talents and the rumours that you paint more of what is there than the eye can see. If this sketch was ever seen it could be... a problem." Although his eyes met hers, it seemed as though he were musing to himself almost.

"I could tear it up, but that wouldn't prevent you from drawing another. Or even from speaking of it. And I have no wish for either to occur. So just what am I going to do with you, Ciara Fitzpatrick?" His voice was suddenly dark, and all the sun had gone from his eyes. Now a storm was building, and she was quite bluntly very afraid she was about to be caught in the middle of it.

The End

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