Letting Poison

Clayman smells of clay under the perfume; she always does. Whether it's a man's cologne that she's wearing, or a woman's perfume, or even the simpler scents of shampoo and deodorant and sweat, Himiko can always smell the sharp harsh tang of clay below it.

Even now, flesh to flesh, heat to heat, the other woman's arm flung over her in something that might be protection or possession or simply the body's relaxation, she can smell it. Now most of all. She brings her own hand up to trace the line of Clayman's jaw and cheek, up to the edge of the eyebrow where the little hairs are coarse against her finger. Flesh, all warm flesh. No physical clay, just the scent of it, sunk into Clayman's body as deep as poison.

"Talk to me," Clayman whispers. Her eyes are closed. She suffers Himiko's touch on her face. She expects something in return.

"Ask me a question," Himiko says randomly. She can think of nothing to ask the other woman in return. Clayman has no secrets beside the obvious ones of identity and motive. Her actions are clear, her desires unhidden; she's an ink painting rather than watercolour, and if one sometimes wonders about the wastes of empty space on the paper, one knows that questions will fall into there and leave no trace behind.

"Tell me about the first time?" Clayman's voice is casual, her eyes still closed.

"Which one?"

A pause. Clayman's breasts rise and fall gently as she breathes. Calm, so calm. This room is full of silence and calmness and elegant taste, from the grey and lilac walls to the pale carpet and the pale futon, and the pale woman lying next to Himiko, and the pale arm that holds her here.

I am the poison here, Himiko thinks. Out of balance.

"Your first time as a sender," Clayman eventually decides. "Was it -- bad?"

"No." Himiko closes her own eyes; darkness suits these memories better than the quiet decor of this ascetic room. "It was a job. I already had a reputation."

Yamato, Ban

"They knew about my abilities." She listens to her own voice in the darkness as though it were a stranger speaking to her. "I'd done -- work -- before. I wasn't a made man, not in that sense, but they knew I was professional. And capable."

"A made man?" Clayman moves, her body shifting to lie closer to Himiko's, warm flesh moulding against warm flesh.

"That I'd killed," Himiko says bluntly.

"Ah." Clayman's breath against her shoulder. "I don't normally operate in those areas . . ."

Himiko almost laughs. "No. No, you're very -- restrained."

"Mm." Lips on the curve of her shoulder blade. "Go on."

Himiko clenches her eyelids closed, forces her breath to calmness. "I was security on a job that wasn't expected to come off. If it worked, I was worth the commission. If it failed, they hadn't lost anything significant, and the stain was on my reputation, not theirs. Very practical."

"You knew all this?" Clayman's voice has only the leisurely curiosity of a patron of the arts.

"Found out. I had contacts."

You see, when I came home to find my big brother dead, and Ban standing there with his hand gloved in blood . . .

. . . no, start that sentence another way . . .

"We had had contacts before."

though Yamato always took care of them, they knew my face, they were prepared to take my money

"I just had to ask the right questions."

and it helped that I looked as much boy as girl -- you say when you've grown up, Ban, but it was lucky that I was slim, that my hair was short, that only the truly degenerate would have had much interest in me at that point, because they were willing to throw me crumbs of business and treat me like a child until I proved that I was an adult

"Pay the money."

you didn't take the money with you when you walked out, Ban, I can be grateful for that at least

"Make my own choices."

was it a compliment of sorts that you thought I could take care of myself?

Arousal makes her breath come harsh and sharp; closed eyes hide her tears.

why did you go? Why did you go?

"It was a job. The other side tried to stop us three times, the police interfered the third time. At the beginning the other transporters figured I was jailbait. After the first time they saw I was for real. Monkey Scent. Morons dropping their guns and scratching themselves." She'd laughed. So had the other transporters. "After the second time, Fire Scent, they trusted me to watch their backs. The third time --"

Clayman's hands grow still on Himiko's flesh. Clayman's palms are pressed against Himiko's body as though she was trying to pull shape out of inchoate mass. Clayman's body is so close against her, so tight, that Himiko can feel her pulse. Clayman finds nothing strange about Himiko. Himiko knows this.

"-- the third time the other side dropped the ball, and the police knew about where they were going to ambush us, figured they'd pick us both up together."

I had to save myself, because nobody else would do it

"They were panicking."

I had to give orders, because nobody else could see what to do, nobody else could make their voice heard, nobody else was thinking

"Fire Scent to clear them out of the way of the truck. Acceleration Scent to stop two cops who figured they'd grab the driver and stop the truck that way. Puppet Scent because the driver had lost his nerve."

I am Lady Poison. Do as I say.

Himiko's losing words, lost in the tide of her body. "Finished. We finished the job." There's nothing strange to her in the rhythms of passion or desire. She's done it before. Clayman isn't the first person she's shared a bed with; Clayman isn't the first woman she's shared a bed with.

Clayman holds her.

There's something strange for Himiko in trust. Not the reliance on partners; she knows that, from strangers to professionals to friends, from killers to enemies. But -- why is it that she should trust a woman whose name is a mystery and whose face is veiled by masks more often than it ever goes open to the air?

Perhaps that's why. They both made their own names, Lady Poison and Clayman. They both made their own masks.

Perhaps that's why they can take them off from time to time, in private, in the silence.


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