It was good to be back home.

It was even better walking up the familiar steps of a familiar home. She had, to her astonishment, missed the company of her fellow Dhampirs, their daily routine, their dojo and just Evermore in general. If the time apart had taught her anything, it was that she had finally found a place to belong, a community to belong and hence instead of the agreed six-eight months of vacation, Valeria had come back in four.

Arriving the previous day, she had thrown her bags and directly gone early in the morning to the dojo to greet everyone there. Most of them had been in the midst of their morning session and the shock and happiness on their face on seeing her warmed her heart. A few were missing though and one of them wasn’t all that known for being an early riser.

It was why she decided to make her presence known to him first. So it was at 7:00 in the morning that Val found herself knocking on his door, Memphis’ excited bark adding to the general noise. “Nathaniel Leight! Do you know what time it is?! You better have an excellent explanation on missing the training today” Valeria voiced through the door in amusement “Otherwise, you are going to be in so much trouble.”

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Working the nightshift completely messed with your day rhythm, especially for Nathaniel who had a strict schedule for both eating, sleeping and working out. All to optimise living of course. Therefor he hated the shifts he had to work night every month, but as criminals didn’t sleep neither did he. This obsession with healthy living had been with him since his childhood but only escalated over the years. There was no profound reason behind his mania, no one close to him had passed due to health issues also dhampirs rarely caught any diseases. Neither did his lifestyle depend on vanity he was well aware that his stunning features wouldn’t change even if he decided to only  live off of fast food. However vegan diet and training fit well into his image and instagram flow so it was worth the extra effort.

It was rumoured that the dhampirs faction leader was on her way back early from her unexplained vacation and everyone was happy to have the blonde back in business. The rest of the dhampirs had planned her expected arrival for weeks but couldn’t pinpoint a date or time to when it would happen. Nathaniel who rarely visited the dojo, only for missions such as training the youngsters, didn’t notice much change during Valeria’s absence. Whatever planning or meetings she usually attended didn’t affect his everyday life. He had missed the ambassador tho who had become a friend.

Nathaniel was planned to work the nightshift the week it was rumoured that Ms Aldridge was to return and himself didn’t live in the houses surrounding the dojo along with the rest of his faction. It didn’t quite live up to his luxurious standards. He didn’t want to miss her arrival and was then forced to condescend to staying over in one of the guest rooms. He had just closed his eyes and managed to fall asleep on the hard uneven mattress, after a long nightshift when he was abruptly awoken by a loud banging and someone barking excitedly. After groaning and turning over once Nate rose from the bed and opened the door. ”I changed tutoring time with Blaize” he said with a yawn hovering down to pet the husky’s soft head.

"Not four months gone and things have already changed!" Without pausing Valeria marched in and flopped on the couch, Memphis jumping besides her "I knew exactly why you must have changed the time. You and the early morning sunshine were never best friends afterall" With a mock accusing glare in his direction, she proceeded to make herself comfortable. During the early months of Max's departure and taking over the faction, Nathaniel had been calm rock she had needed, inserting humour and high-lifestyle in whenever things had gotten too tough and they had become good friends, though his rarely ever acknowledged that fact in public. Rather most people often believed them to be at odds with each other, what with their constant bickering and mock fights. 

Resting her head on the cushion, Val took a moment to study the house. It was nice and spacious but what she did know what that it didn't belong to the Dhampir currently inhabiting it "I was surprised to hear that you have been staying here" she began with a grin "What happened? Don't tell me all your flirting lead you to being stalked by one of the girls. I warned you this would happen eventually" It had been a long trip and Val found herself yawning and being lethargic in general. But it felt so comforting to come back to Evermore and that emotion was certainly foreign. 

She had often revisited places, going once a while back to Paris too, but none of those places ever evoked in her the sense of homecoming she felt on entering the parameters of this city. As Memphis proceeded to paw at Nathaniel, she let out a satisfied sigh at finally being back home and with people who had come to become her family. Taking a moment to study him, her mien sincere, the question was something she had asked most of them since morning,but her voice intoned that she was being serious "I am really glad to be back. How have you been?" and because it was her and it was Nate, she couldn't help adding teasingly "Do I need to track a list of all your latest mischief? Mend broken hearts?" 

“You expected everything to be the same after for months and the faction to have stopped during your vacation” He question laughing. Nathaniel himself was notorious for being one of the most egocentric creature living in Evermore or the universe, but his ambassadors jokey statement topped that. Change was vital to both learning and developing to things that were needed to keep up with the world and survive. His parents had expected people to adjust after their demands which they had brought over to their son. However the spoilt dhampir liked those who didn’t. The ones who didn’t break under his provoking or got sent to their knees by him just flashing a smiling. Valeria was one of those few who didn’t change around him, not to please or annoy him. 

”You know me” he said playing along with her little game. Both of them knew that the health freak rarely slept after 5 am so he had time to work out shower and dress without stress before going to his work at 7. He watched the blonde get cosy on the couch with the husky and realised that he had actually missed the light-hearted duchess. The arrogant male surprisingly got along with most people even tho he drove a majority insane. He and Maxi had enjoyed each others company and when he had left the ball to Valeria they had naturally gotten along as well. They bricked like siblings but both knew the other would support and help if the other expressed they needed it.

”You wish” Nate exhaled and threw a pillow towards Val. The likeliness of her predication was as likely as her absence being due to her having a child, zero. Mocking each others lack of partner had always been their thing and they always took the chance to point out the others potential love affairs. ”Donovan demanded us to await the great duchess arrival and since no one knew when you’d care to show up I sacrificed my comfort”

The sleepy male who had closed his eyes and snuggled back under his covet opened them again when Vals dog jumped up into his bed and poked him with a fury paw demanding attention and being patted. ”Hey you” Nate had always liked animals, more than most people and had planned to buy one. Due to his work hours that wish had never been fulfilled, he was egoistic but he’d never get an animal without being able to give it the best care. Hopefully he’d be approved to get a police K9 and have it with him everywhere. 

"Oh come now. Even you know I am not that vain.. but I don't know, I think a part of me wasn't expecting things to change as quickly as they did" She didn't mention to him that she had rarely stayed over at a place for more than a month to really understand how things could change. She had never felt the need to stay longer before and yet here she was months earlier than she had been expected to arrive. Her perspectives had altered a lot since the four months she had been away and though she couldn't really say she had become wiser, it had certainly given her a new understanding about her own self. Perhaps, in some tiny subtle ways, she had matured. 

"I do, don't I? So I can stay with much certainty that right now, you'd probably get us all some food. I haven't had anything since morning" she grinned cheekily his way, glad that though a lot had occurred, they had remained the same. She internally admitted to fearing her members seeing her absence as an act of desertion and a part of her had been unsure about the reception she would get, but the morning had cleared all her doubts and Val was thankful to finally be back in the midst of those she now considered her family. 

Catching the pillow, she burst out laughing at that tag. It had been Maximilian's old nickname for her, that turned from a joke to a non-official title for her among her members. "How have things been? Since you are our resident Gossip Guy, I require you to fill me in on all the happenings around" Though her words were light, she was certainly curious of everything that had been happening around and she trusted Nate to deliver that information accurately. Val didn't know just how he did it, but he was one of the most reliable guys when one needed to know things. 

As Memphis stalked to the kitchen to probably search for food, Val chuckled "I'd go after her if I were you. She has been insanely mischevious and restless during her trip and I won't be accountable if she ends up breaking something." 

Change was viewed very different depending on personality. Conservatives liked the predictable and how things had always been Nathaniel had always been positive towards change. He was too restless not to be. He was actually kind of a trend-setter himself. It was what he loved about his job it came with many surprises, tho most of them weren’t happy ones. The naturally naive dhampir had a way of making them happy ones, never letting an insult or hit to his perfect face get to him. It annoyed some but it was a part of the bachelors attractive charm his persistence in everything which kind of collided with the pat of him that constantly  longed for change.

”I hate to correct your vision Duchess but firstly its still morning and secondly I don’t think you’d appreciate my diet” He spoke the word Duchess in a taunting tone. He just couldn’t resist and even if it had been months since the two had last spoken a word to one another and she had left without even a single goodbye they found themselves falling back into the same uncomplicated pattern that had always been them. No expectation simply being. It was nice to for a change be someone without bagage, not the rich charming bachelor or annoyingly perfect dude, just Nate. Being the ambassador probably came with the same kind of perks and Val seemed to appreciate the breather as much as himself.

”Sorry to disappoint you love but you know I don’t hang around here much” He said yawning. Referring the here to the dhampir grounds. He used the gym at times and came there to host classes but nothing more than that. His own villas where located all over the city and his company consisted of people from other factions. However his manipulative personality made sure to keep him up to date with whatever could be useful in the future, gossip included. The best lies was based on truths so knowing rumours gave him a head start in investigations.

”This isn’t my house so I don’t really care, wouldn’t have cared if it was my house either nothing is irreplaceable besides I don’t think she would agree with the vegan health products I life off” He chuckled his British coming through more than usual now that he was tired. His American otherwise spotless other than when he was super drunk which hadn’t happen in a while or when flirting with some women. Dhampirs were trained to be sleep deprived and still function normally, in an emergency he would but as he hadn’t been in active duty or in any thrilling situations lately he’d become comfortable and let the sleepiness take over.

It was been a relaxed evening before Maximilian had parted ways with her. They had been watching a movie- watching being a generic word, it was more of Val criticizing the scenes and Max simply nodding off. When it had ended, she had found herself emphatically declaring cheesy nicknames to be the bane of any romance and it had sparked a conversation about nicknames that were appropriate-romantic or otherwise. Val could still remember her arguments on why Duchess was better than Princess or honey or baby or whatever else the generation deemed appropriate and since that time, the name had stuck, to the point that when Max had first introduced her to the faction, he had called her Duchess instead of her own name. 

Grinning widely at Nate's words she swatted him with a pillow "Admit it! You are jealous Max gave me a badass nickname and not you. Well I did offer you to be our page you know" she stated before getting up and stretching "I don't care what you eat but you better have some edible around here or I am forcing you to take me and Memphis to Joe's. I am craving a good sandwich and fries. Maybe a burger. Oh and coffee." She mentally debated her food options as she ambled along to the kitchen, side-stepping Memphis hunger dance. 

"You are telling me you don't know much?! You?! I think I am dealing with an impostor rather than my old friend who wouldn't bat his eyelash when asked for gossip. I think it is time I make good on the threat of getting you a pet. We can start with our dear hamster" Poking her head out, she grinned at the Dhampir's sleepy form before rummaging through the cupboard, snacking on a carrot she had found on the counter "You are living in a sorry state Natie. You don't even have Cheetos!" The complain rumbled more from her stomach than her lips as she walked back to the living room and flopped on the couch "Maybe we should sign you up on one of the many dating websites around. Even Memphis had a romantic boyfriend on the trip."

Resting her head on the pillow, she felt a relieved sigh escape her lips. It was great to back in familiar territory with familiar people and faces and duties. "Speaking of gossip. I have one of my own." Val began suddenly remember the pirate she had left behind in her house "You could say I have a new roommate now." 

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