A/N: It's been a while, readers, but as I have said time and time again, I will not abandon this story. Sorry for the wait, and I hope as I have not abandoned you, you have not abandoned me. 'Cause here's the kind of stuff you've all been waiting for.
He looked at her, squinting in the dark. The only light in the room was the orange streetlamp glow that filtered through her blinds, giving everything a harsh, unreal look.
"What are you gaping at? You kissed me, didn't you?" Slowly, gingerly, he picked himself off the floor and straightened his rumpled green suit.
Jade flushed to the roots of her hair. "I, um – well, I – "
He rolled his eyes. "Get a hold of yourself, woman. You kissed me and broke the curse."
Valmont didn't immediately respond. She observed as he searched the room for something, and his eyes lit on a standing lamp in the corner. He strode over to it, switched it on, and winced at the dim light, turning away and rubbing his eyes.
Jade was still standing there, gaping like a fish, and Valmont sneered. "'The gift of breath,' you nitwit."
"A… a kiss? A kiss is the gift of breath?" Jade looked at the floor, frowning, and then blurted suddenly, "I didn't even kiss you on the lips!"
Oh, me and my big mouth.
He lifted one eyebrow. "That you didn't." Before she could reply, his blue eyes traveled from the top of her head – and her bed-mussed black hair – down to her bare toes, covered in chipped blue nail polish. She crossed her arms to cover her chest in her skimpy tank top.
Luckily, Jade had slept in shorts instead of going pants-less like she sometimes did, depending on her mood.
"What?" she snapped. It was two in the morning, she was tired, she was holding a baseball bat, and a man she barely knew was dusting himself off in her living room.
He turned away, without answering, surveying her apartment with a critical eye as he did so.
"Shut up," she said.
"Though I would expect the niece of Jackie Chan to have better lodgings."
"You – "
"And aren't you friends with a crime lord now?" His blue eyes glinted, his cultured accent somehow making the barb even sharper.
Jade practically felt steam coming out of her ears. "I should've just left you as a statue."
"Ah, but you couldn't resist my charm, even when I was cold as stone."
"You weren't cold," she muttered.
They stood there in the middle of her living room, simply appraising each other. Jade was really at a loss – what could she do about this? No way was she calling Jackie to help fix her problem. He would just baby her. Again. Besides, Valmont couldn't be that dangerous. His cane was laying discarded on the floor.
Finally, he broke the steadily-becoming-awkward silence. "What time is it?"
"Two in the morning."
Something struck Jade then, and she gasped.
"Wait a minute. How did you know I'm friends with a crime lord?"
He stared at her like she was an idiot. "You said so yourself."
"You mean – you heard all that?"
"Why wouldn't I?" His stare was becoming even more incredulous.
"Because you were a statue!" she almost shouted.
"Careful," he said softly. "The neighbors might hear you."
Oops, she thought. Living on the second floor meant you had to try to be quieter. And so far, they had been making quite a bit of noise. She wondered if the neighbors had heard yet.
"And being a statue doesn't mean I can't hear things. I was very aware of what's going on."
"But… you've been a statue for…" Jade trailed off, unsure of how many years he had been stuck that way.
"What year is it?"
He scratched his chin absently, thinking. "Seven years. Seven years I've been like that."
"And you've been aware the entire time?" She gaped in disbelief. "How did you stay sane?"
"Who says I'm sane?" He smirked. "And I wasn't aware the entire time. Mostly I just slept."
"Once you've been an aware, inanimate object for long enough, you know how to sleep until you need to listen again," he said, like it was the simplest concept ever. "I did go crazy for a bit, though."
"For a bit? How do you go crazy for a bit?"
"I got bored with being crazy." Valmont eyed the baseball bat she was still holding. When she spoke, she had been waving it around in the air, gesturing wildly. "Are you going to hit me with that? If you aren't, I suggest putting it down before you break something." He cast a critical eye over her living room. "Not that there's much to break, anyway."
She pointed it at him threateningly. "I said shut up about my apartment, or you'll find this in an uncomfortable place, Valmont."
"What, you aren't going to address me by that charming nickname? I'm disappointed."
Jade felt a stab of embarrassment as she leaned the bat against the wall.
"That's better. If I was going to hurt you, I would have already."
"Oh, whatever. Like you could."
He leered at her, too tall and just a shade too close. "Don't test me."
"You are in my home, buddy, so chill the hell out." Jade could feel herself starting to lose her temper, and she took a step back, ready to throw some punches if he got too physical. She really hoped he wouldn't.
Relenting, Valmont shrugged, and then, in a gesture Jade had never seen from him before – something so simple and human that it shocked her – he yawned. And covered it daintily with his hand.
"Are you tired?"
For a moment, Jade was nonplussed. "Well. Uh. My couch pulls out into a bed if you want to stay here for the night. That is, until we can find you somewhere better to stay."
"That would be… adequate. Yes."
She had a lot of questions for him, but she was also tired, and confused, and not ready to deal with this kind of magical bullcrap at two in the morning. Why did magical bullcrap always happen to her at the most inopportune times? Jade sighed as she got to work dismantling the couch so she could pull out the folding mattress.
"A little help here?" she asked as she struggled with the slightly sticky, cheap hinges. Valmont hummed noncommittally, but moved to assist her anyway, easily pulling it out. Surreptitiously, she noticed the muscles on his arms working under his shirt as he accomplished what she had been struggling with.
"Thanks," she said, feeling a little wobbly. God, I need sleep. "Um, lemme just get you some blankets and a pillow."
When she came back from the hall closet, he wasn't in the living room, but she could hear him puttering around in the kitchen. The clink of glasses filtered out to her, and she heard her cupboards being opened and closed.
"What're you doing?" she asked, trying to conceal her alarm at a stranger going through her home without her supervision. She didn't want a formerly rich playboy crime lord judging her apartment when she wasn't there to tell him to screw off.
He didn't answer, instead cracking open a canned drink and pouring it in a glass filled with ice. There was a strange, deep satisfaction on his face as he waited for the fizz to subside and then guzzled it all in five long chugs. A bliss so primitive Jade was amazed by it swept over his aristocratic face, and she realized this was the first time in seven years he had had anything to drink.
He twitched a little as the carbonation came back for revenge, and he burped silently – an art Jade herself had not quite mastered.
He raised his eyebrows dryly. "Quite."
"Your blankets are on the bed. Since it's so hot, I just gave you some sheets. And you can turn the fan on if you want."
"Very well then."
"Um, good night." She turned to go, and stopped with her back to him when he spoke.
"Good night, Miss Chan."
Hesitantly, she said, "My mom's Miss Chan. Call me Jade."
Immediately, she felt stupid. Valmont, her former enemy, a crime lord in her kitchen, was not going to want to call her by her first name. What's next, Jade? You want to make friendship bracelets and hot chocolate with him? How about paper dolls and camp lanyards?
"Good night then, Jade."
Despite herself, Jade shivered at the way his dark voice and accent slithered around her name.
Jade woke to the smell of eggs cooking.
She briefly had a moment where she didn't remember the incident with Valmont and panicked, wondering who was in her apartment – then it all came flooding back, and she sighed with relief.
Then she had another moment in which she wondered why the hell she could smell cooking. Wrapping a robe around herself, she padded into the kitchen and was struck by the sight that met her.
Valmont was standing at her stove over a skillet, scrambling eggs. Even more mind-boggling was that he was in his sock feet, his shirt untucked and rumpled, and the buttons down the front were opened, revealing his white undershirt and rather muscular chest. His green dress pants looked a bit wrinkled from sleeping in them.
Jade only just restrained her jaw from dropping, and she struggled to regain her composure before he turned. He glanced at her from the corner of his eyes, his lips twitching a bit.
Each time he evidenced a sense of humor, Jade found herself shocked. She wondered if that was going to be a normal thing. Wait, no, it can't be a normal thing because he's not sticking around here, Jade. No, no, no.
"Hungry?" he asked innocently.
"Um… no, I'm good. I'll just – "
Her stomach chose that moment to let out a loud rumble.
Valmont's face was stone-cold straight as he ladled some eggs onto a plate, picked up some toast from a stack next to his elbow, and held the loaded plate out to her. When she took it sheepishly, he prepared himself some food and breezed past her to the table, where he sat down and began reading the newspaper.
He brought in the newspaper? What kind of freaky parallel dimension have I landed in?
"You made breakfast?"
"I was hungry. And you were asleep." He sipped a steaming mug of coffee, eyes on the headlines.
"So you just… went into my kitchen… and made eggs?"
She eyed a forkful like they might be poisoned. He leveled a look at her over his mug. "I assure you, there's no cyanide in it. I wouldn't kill my host. I have more manners than that, at least."
"You're a criminal," she accused, almost flinging eggs across the table with her wild gesturing.
"Being a criminal is not mutually exclusive to being versed in etiquette."
When she continued to look skeptical, he rolled his eyes and went back to reading the paper. Distracted, he drawled, "Suit yourself."
He kept reading, and she stared at the eggs and the buttered toast, feeling hungry. Well. He said he has manners. And apparently I'm crazy. She lifted some eggs to her mouth, put them on her tongue, and chewed slowly, trying to detect any hints of you're-going-to-fall-to-the-floor-vomiting-your-brains-out. Nope. Nothing.
Still suspicious, she continued eating, and by the time her plate had been scraped clean, she still hadn't started bleeding from her pores, so she was curiously satisfied.
"So… did you sleep all right?" she asked, feeling awkward.
"Mm, quite. Though the springs poked my back. And the bed is obviously cheap. I wonder how you manage like this."
Feeling snotty, she jabbed her fork in his direction. "The same way you did when your estate went to hell."
"Point." She could swear she heard humor in his voice.
After another period of uncomfortable – at least to Jade anyway as Valmont seemed somehow perfectly at ease – silence, Jade said, "So what are we going to do about … um… this?"
"I find somewhere to stay, and we move on with our lives."
"That's a great idea, but what about the other members of the Dark Hand?"
"Ah, that. I suppose – " And here he heaved a great, put-upon sigh. "– I'll have to help you free them from the constraints of the curse." He set the newspaper down with a rustle and leaned back in his chair, looking her in the eye. "After all, it is my fault they're in such a state."
"Yeah, what did happen? How'd you guys end up all … turned-to-stone and stuff?"
"It has a lot to do with those ancient artifacts we stole from ruins in the Amazon rainforest."
"You… what?" Her eyes bugged.
He nodded, savoring her amazement, obviously reveling in it. "I was trying to regain some of the fortune I had lost. Stealing these items seemed like the perfect idea. And of course, Ratso and the rest were all for it if they were assured a cut of the reward.
"Unfortunately, the items were cursed, and it wasn't twenty-four hours after we had stolen the blasted things that various parts of us were turning to stone."
"Um… various parts?"
"My toes went first, if you must know."
Jade resisted the urge to laugh, imagining Valmont staring at his stone toes. "Why didn't you just put the artifacts back?"
"Greed. And it wasn't that simple. The changes hadn't started occurring until we got them back to the California. I had to arrange another flight to get us back to the ruins. And then we would have to hike back through the rainforest. It was much too late for that."
"Whoa. So no one noticed you turning into a rock?"
"It was too fast. All of it occurred in less than eight hours. The rest of the Dark Hand had showed up at my lodgings when their own bodies started changing. And right there, as we discussed the problems, one by one, we turned so much we couldn't move. There was nothing to be done about it."
"But how'd no one find you for so long?"
He smiled slowly, an unsettling look. "I have many enemies who enjoy fine works of art. Especially if there's a possibility it's really me."
Jade shivered. "That's just… creepy."
He tilted his head a bit, not agreeing or disagreeing with her.
"Well," she said. "I guess we ought to go to Jackie's and tell him the good news."
"I'm sure Chan will be thrilled."
"I'm going to go take a shower. Do you want one when I'm done? And, uh, I guess we can borrow some of Jackie's clothes for you…"
Seeing his lip curl in disgust, Jade held up her hands. "Never mind that then. We'll stop at the store before we go."
"However, I do require a shower."
"Fine. Just don't destroy anything or go anywhere 'cause I'm going first."
He shrugged and sipped some coffee. As she left the room, his voice drifted to her.
"I'll be waiting."