"Ugh, that's not right either..." Diana muttered, holding her pencil in her mouth while she erased some of the lines she had drawn in her sketch. It wasn't easy erasing them with just her one hand, despite trying to use the other as a weight to keep the sketchbook stationary. She was concentrating so much on keeping her sketchbook on her lap that she didn't notice her little art box falling until it was on the grass, contents scattered everywhere. "Oh crumbs..." she looked around, seeing if her sister or godmother was around, before carefully leaning down and trying to pick up the scattered pencils and ink pens. Some pieces were farther away and she tried to get up out of her wheelchair to reach them, only ending up in the grass herself in front of her chair. "Crumbs, now Momma Tearju is going to be cross..."
A voice chuckled from above her, then slowly peltered downward as soon dropped to ground level with her. Astor looked up at her from his knelt position, smiling behind his goggles. "Would you like a hand there princess?"
Diana jumped and looked up at him. "I-I can manage, thank you for the offer..." she replied politely, proceeding to try and get up on her own. After about three attempts, she slumped. "Um...yes...I would like some help..."
Astor nodded and bowed again as he picked up her art box. With a sweeping motion, he gathered up the contents, and turned them up, presenting them to the owner. "And for the lovely lady"
"Th-Thank you..." she said, taking them and putting them on her lap. "I-I'm sorry to cause you so much trouble..."
He stood and gave a graceful bow in mid-rise. "Not a problem there dearie. So what are you doing here?"
Diana gave him a slightly skeptical look, looking almost exactly like her sister aside from her eyes. "I could ask you the same thing...I haven't seen you around the manor before."
"Oh...just wandering around really," he spoke nonchalantly, leaning against the tree and crossing his arms. "Getting the layout of the new place and all that."
Diana tilted her head. "New place?" he practically saw the light go on in her head. "Oh! You're one of the ones who are with my sister, aren't you?"
He grinned and nodded to her. "Ahh so you must be the famous Diana. Your sister...well eventually told us so much about you. After quite a bit of prodding really but still nonetheless." He stepped back to her again, lifting his goggles up to reveal his grey and gold sunbursts. "Astor Hargreaves, assassin and thief at your service."
"Oh! You must be the one that my sister says very unladylike things about...the infuriating cat boy." she looked concerned for a moment. "I do apologize for that, I'm merely repeating what she said...Diana Marie Riverfall, nice to meet you." she smiled, though it didn't quite match her eyes. I'm not really surprised Seph didn't talk about me, she hasn't really been the trusting type since...well, for a long time."
He nodded with a cheeky grin. "Yes that would be me. The infuriating catboy, now that's a familiar term." He shook his head and turned to the side. "I know, your sister has held alot of emotions back, and that you were her main reason for the things she did and the pain she forced herself to endure. In all seriousness, I have to admire her for that."
"You should tell her that." Diana said matter-of-factly.
He turned back to her with a smile. "I have. As infuriating as she says I am, I have never skimped when on the praise when and where it is due." He sighed and took a seat by her. "But, I do know she also needs someone to help push her farther. There have been times she's needed someone...infuriating. Go toe to toe with her. Who wants to push her forward rather than hold her back. So...I provide that."
"I admire your commitment to that...Unfortunately, I don't think she appreciates it as much as she should..." Diana sighed, resting her head in her good hand. "My sister wasn't always like this, you know. There was a time that she would blush at any and every compliment given to her...All you had to do to get her to like you was say something nice about her, or me, and be sincere about it. She would always give what she got..."
"Yeah...I know. She wants to still. I can see it. But she's been through way too much. Such niceties are a bit more wasted on her nowadays," he grinned a bit. "But not on me, I do appreciate the praise. I have to admit, there have been times I thought she might actually try and kill me."
"She won't. Don't worry about that." Diana replied, again very matter-of-fact.
He laughed, almost wanting to hug her. "Quite the confidence you have there dearie. But I do agree with you. And that is why I push her. I know she won't. And hence, "He gave a motion to himself with large open arms. "...infuriating."
"I don't know...I would find that kind of...tenacity endearing." Diana shrugged slightly. "Then again, even before she changed, Seph and I were a bit different..." she glanced at him a few times as she spoke. "As for confidence, you have to have at least some when no doctor can tell you with sincerity that you'll walk again. If I didn't have confidence, I would spend my life in this chair, probably not even outside, because I would believe them..."
He rubbed the back of his neck. "Hah...don't make me start blushing now..." but as she spoke of herself, he let his smile fall. "I'm sorry...I didn't mean to be rude..."
Diana shook her head. "N-Nono, you've not been! I was just saying that...oh, never mind...I've never been good with conversation. It was always where I failed in my etiquette lessons..."
He chuckled and shook his head. "No don't worry about it. How about we just forget that little mishap and start over?"
"I do agree...Okay, I apologize..." she leaned over and touched one of his cat ears. "I have never seen things like this before..."
Unable to stop himself, Astor allowed a small purr to escape. He quickly snapped his eyes open and cleared his throat. "Oh...uh yeah...I'm...kind of a magical experiment that mixed me with a cat...you know...no big."
"My sister has wings due to experiments too...It's not that different. I've just never seen this particular result..." she leaned over more to tickle his other ear, giggling when it twitched like a real cat's. "And I love cats to begin with. Could never have them because father is very allergic."
"Ahh yes I have dabbled with your sister's wings every now and then when she needs it. Quite the marvel really," he lowered his head. "Yeah, you won't see anything like this result...I was the first success with the animal line."
Diana was about to comment in surprise to the fact that Seph LET him dabble with her wings, but quickly quieted as she heard his next statement. "...I'm sorry." she said after a moment, pulling her hand away and sitting back down in her chair. "I feel so dreadful when I see what happened with all of father's...experiments...and all that happened to me is loss of mobility...I feel like the others must think how unfair it is that I'm not going through what they are..."
Astor immediately thought of his father and tensed. But after a deep breath, he smiled. "You really are quite the little angel aren't you? Don't worry about that...I'm going to make sure that they don't have to experience that ever again. I may have been the first success...but I want to make sure I'm the last."
"I'm sure my sister can help you with that." she replied, smiling slightly and blushing a bit at his first comment. "I wish I could..." she let out a sigh before shaking her head. "Pay me no mind...Either way, I think you should keep the ears..." she reached over and flicked one again. "They're cute."
He purred again, chuckling back at her and gently pulling her arm away so he could stand. "Oh I think I just may if the angel thinks they're fitting. Besides," he makes a graceful jump and grabs a low branch, easily flipping his body upward to stand on it perfectly. "They are the first in a line of enhancements I'm reluctant to part with."
Diana giggled, clapping her hands and still blushing at her apparent new nickname. "Impressive! I am jealous, indeed."
With a smile, Astor gently jumped down and landed in front of her, extending his hand. "Would you like a lift then? I promise to keep you safe."
"O-Oh..." she looked down at herself in the wheelchair and back up at him. "I-I don't want to burden you..."
"No burden dear, not at all," he took her hand gently in his gloved one. "I have plenty of strength to take you up there. Besides, maybe it will help you get some inspiration."
"A-All right then..." Diana held his hand tightly, hoping the little bit of strength she usually had in her leg would keep her from collapsing right off.
With a gentle pull, Astor lifted her up and set his arm beneath her knees to hold her in a single princess carry. This allowed her left arm to hang onto the back of his neck and he walked to the tree. "Hold tight," he said as he bunched up and leapt into the branches, using his free hand and legs to pull, kick, and leap his way up into a large nest of branches near the top. The tree seemed to have a rather stable foundation even at this height and he set her down in a seemingly natural chair formation that the branches seemed to make. "There we go. Now sit tight, I'll be right back with your things."
"O-Okay..." Diana said, getting used to her new 'chair' as she looked around, tucking her hair behind her ear. "I've never climbed a tree before...now I see why my sister liked it so much..." she looked out at the view of the manor grounds, loving the breeze that filtered through the branches.
He leapt back up to her easily and passed her art supplies to a small spot next to her to allow easy access. "Yeah, well, I figured an angel should know what it means to have the wind beneath her wings. While I can't fly, I figured I could at least provide this much."
Diana's eyes widened and her earlier blush deepened as she smiled slightly. "Th-Thank you...This is wonderful." she picked up her sketchbook. "Not many people would...go to such lengths..."
Astor smiled and took a seat next to her. "I told you, I see things in people that they themselves don't. And, whatever I can provide, be it a small lift, or an infuriating companion, I do what I can," he smiled at the distance, the breeze playing with his hair. "Nothing to it really."
"And you say I'M the angel..." a light went on in her head and she opened up her sketchbook to a blank page, starting to draw what was in her head.
He heard the pencil moving, smiling without looking to her. "Finally got your creativity flowing huh?"
"Mhm..." Diana replied happily, sketching away as she hummed quietly.
"I'm glad to hear. I don't mind keeping you company while you work."
"Good, because I rather enjoy your company." she replied before she could think too much about it. "I mean...you're very nice and you're the only one aside from my sister who understands that I don't want to be treated like I'm glass just because I'm in a wheelchair..." she had added to justify her answer, but ended up cutting herself off before she could say anymore.
He chuckled and waved a hand to her. "Don't worry don't worry, I understand what you meant. It's alright really! I'll stick around."
Diana kept her head down to hide her blush as she continued working, already getting the basic pose and shapes down and starting the detail work.
Astor merely watched outward, eyes scanning everything around him. Trees, building layout, everything. It would be handy to know the place in and out...and quite fun. "So, anything I can learn about this place? Secret areas, back passages, anything?"
"I'm afraid I don't know..." she replied after a moment, stopping her sketch and setting down her pencil for a moment. "Momma Tearju says there are blueprints to the house somewhere, but they haven't been found in years. I found a passage a few years ago, but it was so old that it collapsed...Momma Tearju wasn't too happy with me after that...she watched me like a hawk for so long...Moreso than usual."
"Heh, guess I'd have to do things to the old fashioned way. Fine by me really," he grinned and put his goggles back on out of habit. "I never back down from a challenge."
"Can I come along?" she asked hopefully. "I'd love to explore more of the house and maybe Momma Tearju will be more lenient about it if I'm with someone who can keep me from ending up in rubble again..."
He smiled, but put a hand to his chin in thought. "Hmm, definitely a mission. We'd have to avoid Momma...and your sister..."
"Well, my sister is probably in the study, poring over father's old journal...I do wonder if he's noticed it missing yet. He never let it out of his sight..." she pondered aloud.
Astor had to thank his ability to maintain his poker face in...well the face of anything. Dare he tell her about what happened?
"As for Momma Tearju, I think she's talking to Le...Lea...the faery boy...So we would just have to avoid the study and the main parlour, I think..."
"Leyandris, yes. Take my word for it, don't underestimate him. But at the same time, I think you are right. We won't have to worry about him. Can't underestimate just what he'll avoid if he doesn't care about it."
"He doesn't seem all that bad." she replied, shaking her head. "He wanted to know more about my sister because he wanted to know how to help her. I think Seph is something he cares about...so if he's not with Momma Tearju, he'll probably be with Sephie."
"Don't have to remind me," he gave a strained laugh. "Meh, just have some strained ties with him. Even the infuriating catboy has someone infuriating to him. That does not mean I hate the man, but he does tend to rub me the wrong way often."
"I'm pretty sure everyone has someone infuriating to them." she replied with a smile, reaching over and tickling one of his ears. "Even infuriating cat boys."
He chuckled. "You really do love your cats don't you angel?"
She giggled slightly, blush ever-present. "I do. As much as you seem to like that nickname."
Astor grinned as he moved her hand away gently. "Well it suits you. Very well then, I'll take you on an exploration through the manor. I think it'll prove to be quite the fun time."
"Certainly better than sitting alone in the garden." Diana agreed, putting away her art supplies back into their box. "We'll have to stop by my room though...I'd rather not carry this with me and risk losing or damaging it." She looked at him worriedly for a moment. "I-If that's all right." she added, realising how demanding that had sounded.
He smiled at her and took her artbox, placing it gently into his body-tight sack across his back. "I can definitely see your sister in you. Very well, which window?"
"Seph? In me? How? Oh...um, third floor, second balcony room." Diana added as she heard his question.
He smiled and picked her up, trailing across a large branch and leapt to the rooftop. Taking a firm hold of the windowframe, he stood and lifted him and the girl across the edge gutter as it surprisingly held the both of them. He tiptoed across, making his way to the balcony she mentioned before lightly stepping down to it and opening the door to her room. "And here we are little Angel."
"Th-Thank you...But what did you mean before, that you see Seph in me? I'm not at all like her...She's a lot stronger and she doesn't really like cats, she's more into horses, and she can actually do things to help people--"
He shook his head. "You have her spark. That intelligent spark. Believe it or not, but I can see it. Give yourself a little credit Angel. You might not be able to move much, but just then, you were able to very easily map out a plan just as quickly as she can map out a blueprint." He set her down in her chair by a desk for her to put her things away. "If I ever had to do a mission with a plan made by you, I'd feel very confident in being able to do it if you have that sort of aptitude. Like an angel watching over my shoulder."
"Y-You're pretty stuck on that nickname..." Diana observed, blush from earlier deepening. "I never really thought about that...I suppose I am like Seph..."
He smiled. "Trust me, that's not a bad thing. And besides, we could use your planning and attention to detail here on our mission. You can keep watch over me and make sure we're alright."
Diana tilted her head, eyes wide as she stared at him. "You...You'd really want me to come with you? You'd want my help on something so important?"
"Why not?" he grinned back. "You already proved you could help. Why not show yourself just how useful you could be?"
For a moment, it was quiet as she gaped at him. Then, without warning, she jumped up from her seat and stumbled over to him (lucky he was close, or she would have collapsed before she got to him), crashing into him as she hugged him a bit awkwardly, trying to keep her weight on her good side so she could stand. "Thank you, thank you, thank you! No one's ever said I could actually help before!"
He laughed and held her gently, pulling her away after a moment to look her seriously in the eye. "Alright alright don't let it go to your head little Angel. We also need to care for you too while you're here. You cannot help others if you cannot help yourself you know. So, let's get what we need to care for you in any situation shall we? What do we need?"
"Well...we'll need my wheelchair for one..." she made a slight face, not liking that it was needed. Using him to keep her balance, she reached over to a cupboard nearby. "It doesn't do anything to help...but Momma Tearju gets cross if I don't take the medication the doctor gave me..."
"Hey, every little helps. Hah, I swear that should be a catchphrase or something," he chuckled and helped her reach what she was searching for, and put it gently into his pack. "Anything else?"
Diana looked around. "Oh, my cane...I get scolded if I use it too much, but I'm supposed to try and walk with it once in a while...and..." she looked around more. "Oh. Luna..." she held onto what she could to stumble over to her bed.
He cocked his head lightly. "Luna?"
Diana looked sheepish for a moment. "My doll...Seph brought her when she came here...she was my favourite out of the ones mother made..." she sat down carefully on her bed, keeping her weight on her good side. More than ever, she wanted to look...at least a little self-sufficient.
(TO BE CONTINUED)