Notes: Written as part of Princess Alexandria's Valentine's challenge. Tell me what you think of my first original character!


Unreadable

by Yimmy


She was the kind of woman who knew what she wanted. She had that unsatisfied look, like everything she'd ever seen failed to measure to the ideal in her mind's eye. The way she wandered from room to room, the way she ran her hands over wood and marble, the way she prowled like a huntress rang with dissatisfaction or, at the very least, unrealized dreams.

Don't get me wrong. Far from being arrogant and haughty, my client was the perfect picture of sensibility and civility. Every request began with a "Please" and ended with a "Thank you." She never shied away from eye contact, instead holding my gaze with her almost hypnotizing stare at every turn. Imagine that: confrontational but not overbearing. How she managed to be unimpressed but still genial I had no idea. She was a paradox, on one hand the perfect client and on the other perfectly unreadable.

"Here's the master bedroom," I smiled, leading her into the loft's most opulent and impressive feature. "Feel free to ask me any questions."

Right, question. She was the only one who had answers to her questions, not me. I was the facilitator, nothing more.

"Thank you."

As she stalked the velvet curtains and four post bed, I leaned back into the doorframe and watched, watched and reviewed what I'd known about her.

Elisabeth Braddock. I placed the accent as definitely British, educated and perhaps even raised on the Queen's soil. Her tastes were Asian, not quite Chinese but not fully Japanese either. She favored dark colors yet firmly insisted on large, ornate windows; she wanted spacious but not barren or Spartan. Affluent summed up her financial status, made clear when she called my office with a request for a Greenwich Village dwelling and citing that "Money is not a concern. I need to leave my current place of residence now."

She was dissatisfied at something, angry even. My mind screamed "easy sell" because emotional people made hasty decisions, but after six hours--No, make that eight--touring the crème de la crème of Manhattan properties with no end in sight, I gave up on the thought. Normally, I would've called the day an absolute waste thanks to an indecisive troublemaker. Normally, I would've told my client to come back when he or she had an actual goal in mind besides draining my life away.

But normally I didn't have clients like Ms. Braddock. She was a conundrum, driven yet clueless, confident but strangely vulnerable, aggressive but approachable. I made my living reading people and knowing their tendencies, but this one? I couldn't so much as pinpoint the time of day with her which made her all so much more interesting to be around.

She didn't fit into any mold I cast her in. She eluded my perception like it was her business. She was a challenge, and baby, I loved challenges.

Fine, so she might've been easy on the eyes too. She had a runway model's body tempered by a born and bred athlete's grace. That black sweater dress ended just above her knees, exposing a criminally sinful set of legs that rippled with every move. The top hugged her figure and left nothing to my already over-active imagination. All in all, the outfit acted like a second skin, breathtakingly innocuous. Then, there was the face, the hair, and the way she moved--exotic, exotic, erotic.

She was sex in motion.

Self-consciously, I tugged at my one button blazer. With a glimmering Cartier on my wrist and pair of leather Pradas encasing my feet, I didn't feel as... as... I guess inferior was the word. For not the first time in the past few hours, I congratulated myself on my ritzy choice in clothing this morning.

Had a feeling I'd want to look my best.

"I'll take it."

The three words shocked me into looking up. Even now she was only barely readable, the bounce in her step offset by her impassive expression. Something about this loft impressed her, something like the designer bathrooms or high palatial ceilings or incredible location or nouveau chic atmosphere. Whatever it was, I hadn't the slightest clue.

"Are you hungry?" I asked, squashing the urge to celebrate. "There's an excellent sushi restaurant called Sumile that's close by. My treat."

She cocked her head curiously. "No immediate paperwork? No relieved sigh after a successful day long sales pitch?"

Ah, quite the observant one there. Mysterious, sexy, and smart in the same package--I gave her a wiry grin to cover up my own glee. "I'm a no-pressure realtor."

Of course, that was a great big lie. I pushed the envelop when I wanted to, but with Ms. Braddock, I knew pushing her wouldn't get results. People like her tended to have a nasty independent streak that hated bossy types.

"Come on," I prodded gently, "They have a full bar."

She rewarded me with a musical laugh. "Lead the way."


Sumile was one of those places you heard of but didn't go to. It was pretentious and fatally cool, a high classed watering hole for the movie stars, millionaires' children, and their respective poser friends. They discouraged tourists by putting a bouncer disguised as a maitre d' at the door and enforcing a strict "no cameras" rule. Inside, the food came out with a bang, demi-glace that, Pan-Asian this, and the appropriate price tag to boot. The alcohol flowed freely, each looking like a multicolored masterpiece. The waiters went about their business in the shadows and left every party to their own devices.

In other words, Sumile fit my client like a glove.

I smiled at Ron, the maitre d' cum bouncer. "How's it in there tonight?"

"Hey, if it ain't Peeps!" He chuckled his own unique way and reached over the booth to snag my hand with his meaty paw. "I'd help you if I could, but it's reservations only right now."

Our hands pulled away, our clandestine exchange done. He discretely looked down into his palm and saw the hundred dollar bill I'd slipped him. Acting all business-like, Ron picked up a pencil and made some nonsensical markings on the seating chart.

"Whoa, lookit here. Table forty one's free. Guess I missed that one, didn't I?"

"I'm sure it was an honest mistake."

And like that, we were seated. Magically, menus appeared on our table along with the promise of "I'll give you two ladies a few minutes to look everything over." I thought this was going to be one of those awkwardly silent, insufferable after-business dinners. Actually, I'd banked on that. My stomach growled and after so much talking about condos and lofts and apartments and houses, I just needed a few moments of "me" time. I needed respite from the incoming paperwork, the inevitable title company headaches, the way her porcelain features spoke to my basest desires, the near-painted on clothes showcasing her bosom in this darkened restaurant, and... and...

God, I needed to pretend I didn't want to fuck my client.

"Why did he call you Peeps?"

An innocent question, but when my eyes lifted from the menu, I saw a sparkle of playfulness. Her menu lay before her, untouched.

"We're high school friends," I replied. Good, my voice was neutral. Neutral was good.

"And how did he get Peeps from Vivian Cerras?"

Imagine that: she wasn't going to make things easy. "That would be telling, wouldn't it Ms. Braddock?"

No, wait, didn't want to say that, especially with a husky edge. Bad Vivian, bad Vivian! I didn't even know if she was straight or gay!

"Oh bother, drop the Ms. Braddock garbage. It's Betsy."

There it was, the point of no return. If Ms. Braddock became Betsy, she'd be more than a client; I didn't go after clients. Everyone on this green earth wanted a deal, and that included the people who were about to shell out millions of dollars on a couple thousand square feet of Manhattan property. Even the rich didn't mind saving money and having the realty agent wrapped around their little finger could do them wonders.

Normally, I could tell if that was my client's intention which was where I got my nickname, Peeps. My friends always said I seemed to be in-the-know about everyone, peeping on their business like it was mine. I told them that was because I knew how to read people, but in their zeal to find something funny about my talent, they christened me Peeps. It followed me from grade school to grad school.

Interesting how nicknames stuck.

However, Ms. Braddock defied my every attempt to gauge her. Like I said before, unreadable, and when approached with unreadable, I assumed the worst.

And just because I could read people didn't mean I could control myself or my mouth very well. Luckily though, a split second before I was about to say something incredibly stupid, a "Can I get you ladies a drink?" appeared out of nowhere.

"Asabiraki," she said without removing her eyes from mine.

Me? I spared a moment to glaze over the beverages. Asabiraki, finest in Japanese sake, imported from Iwate, $35.

"A glass of Quintessa, '96."

Quintessa, Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley, aged exactly one decade, $30. I didn't really like sake.

The voice was gone again.

She put her elbows on the table and propped her chin up with her hands. "Is this how dinner is going to be? Me staring at you and vice versa?"

"I suppose I could propose a toast for your new home."

"And then we'd be back here again, me staring at you and vice versa. What happened to the affable agent who couldn't stop talking?"

She's afraid of saying the wrong thing? She's hungry? She's trying to not notice how beautiful Bets- I mean, Ms. Braddock, is? "I'm still here."

"Could've fooled me."

Silently, our drinks slid next us. "Are you ready to order?"

Again she took the lead. "I'll have the hamachi with nori salt and the anago."

"You madame?"

"An entrée of the duck breast with foie gras mousse."

Shit. Breast. Juvenile it might've been, but my cheeks reddened and my heart sped up. For a fraction of a moment, I let my gaze drift and-

"Very good, your food will be out shortly."

I forced myself away from those tantalizing thoughts. "You've been here before."

"New York has been like a second home to me, but recently, things have changed. I'm looking to recapture some of the magic."

"You didn't answer my question."

She brought the little cup of sake to her nose and took a deep breath. The playful smile she'd been wearing ever since we sat never wavered. "You didn't ask a question."

Hmph, so I didn't. "Now you're being difficult. I thought you wanted to talk."

"I only said I wanted to know where the affable agent was."

Not only unreadable but also infuriating. "And I said she's still here."

"That's too bad."

"Why's that?"

She tilted her head back and gulped down the burning liquid. "I've had enough drama these last few weeks to last me a lifetime. I thought perhaps that this could be a normal dinner and not a business transaction."

Did I mention she was unreadable? "You're still my client, Ms. Braddock."

"Please, it's Betsy."

"Whatever you say, Ms. Braddock."

The empty cup found its way back to the table. "You're an interesting person, Vivian."

"Thank you, I get that a lot."

"One minute I catch you undressing me with your eyes and then the next you're stone faced. Tell me, am I missing something?"

I cleared my throat and played with the stem of my wineglass. She called me on my furtive glances and me... I didn't know what to do, so I played along. "No, you aren't."

"Are you married?"

Where did she get that? "No, and I don't think the kind of marriage I'd prefer is legal."

She didn't seem disgusted. In fact, she looked downright amused. Somehow, I felt like I'd fallen into some kind of setup, but whether that was good or bad, I couldn't quite put my finger on it.

"Good," she chuckled, refilling her cup. "I'd hate to think I'd lost my touch. Would be a real shame if I'd spent the last eight hours showing off myself to you for nothing."

Would be a shame if... what? "Wait, you knew? You've been-"

"Grilled duck breast with foie gras mousse?"

God. Breast, again. What was I, ten years old? "That's mine," I squeaked, a cough coming quickly afterwards to cover up my uncharacteristic embarrassment.

"The hamachi and anago?"

Only then did Betsy move her arms off the table. Like the ghost he was, our waiter made himself scarce, once again leaving me to gape at my companion in peace.

"Why are you doing this?" This? This meant seducing me. Did I mind? No, but, "You could have anyone in this town. Why me?"

Mind you, I didn't have a self-esteem problem. I did well for myself at the after-hours scene, my intuition combining with my looks to get the company I wanted. At the same time, I wasn't a lady-killer that turned every head in every room. I wasn't model material, lithe and tall and enchanting. I wasn't sex in motion. I wasn't everything Betsy was, exotic, exotic, and erotic.

Her playfulness changed into a ravishing fierceness. She still smiled, only now it was more of a smirk. She dominated my gaze. Her lips seemed fuller and the way she sat made her a towering visage.

"You're selling yourself short," she insisted, cup of sake once again in her hand. "I could regale you with the beauty you fail to see in yourself. I could say that physical appearances are the worst measures of a lover. I could tell you all I want, but I have a feeling showing you will be infinitely more effective."

"This'll complicate things..."

"No, it won't. No complications, no promises, no consequences, only tonight." Another shot of sake interrupted her words. "What do you say?"

I blinked at her. What was once unreadable now was opened like a book: she wanted a one night stand. I could do that. "Nothing after tonight?"

"No strings attached."

Suddenly, I wasn't hungry anymore. "My place is a few blocks away."


Uncomplicated. Sounded so good when she said it. Uncomplicated. No strings attached. No consequences. Felt good too, like nothing I'd ever felt before. Betsy was... indescribable. She was as much of a paradox in bed as she was anywhere else, relentlessly adventurous and willing to do everything. She fulfilled fantasy after fantasy with a vigorous appetite, never saying no, never stopping. Come morning, true to her word, she washed up and closed on her purchase of the loft without protest or fanfare.

That was three weeks ago, and then things got complicated.

See, I lived in Greenwich Village myself. Ten minutes brisk jog separated our homes, close enough to be too close. At six thirty seven every morning from my living room window,I'd see her trotting down the street. I'd see her sweating body and her long purple hair whipping against the morning breeze. Sometimes, I'd see the rain soak her clothes and raise her nipples. She wouldn't even look at my condo, and in a way, I guess that's where things got complicated.

I couldn't get enough of her.

When I lay on my bed, I smelled her scent all over me. In the dead of the night, I heard her gasping breaths as she panted for more. When I opened my eyes, I saw her euphoric face light up. I still felt a measure of her cum dragged onto my stomach.

I daydreamed about her. On the subway, at work, during open houses, doing paperwork, I saw her sidling up me, her firm breasts pressing against my back and her mouth leaving a trail of lipstick on my neck. Large mirrors sent shivers up my spine: I remembered how I had her pinned face first on my sliding closet's mirror, her legs spread apart and her hips jutted out as she begged for me to touch her, to finish her off.

I couldn't function. I couldn't close deals I normally closed. I couldn't say the right things. I couldn't concentrate long enough to gauge anyone's mannerisms. I could only see Betsy, Betsy everywhere.

The highlight of my day came at 6:37 AM. Everything else was downhill.

Which was why I finally convinced myself to visit her. I'd play the part of the astute realty agent, there to check if the home was to her liking. What I'd do when I saw her I didn't know. Was SHE married? If not, did she have a lover already? Did I want another night with her after feeling what just one did to me?

All questions, no answers. I bit my lip and crossed the street to her building's entrance. Before I pushed the intercom button to her loft, the front door opened and out filed a cadre of displeased individuals.

A very unhappy woman led them, her snow white hair contrasting with her dark skin. Behind her was a man with deep red sunglasses she poignantly ignored. While they talked--well, rather the man talked and the woman ignored--the others wore disgusted faces. A short, gruff man smoking a cigar glared daggers into me. A brunette lady with a tuft of white hair stomped away unhappily. Another woman, this one who had strange tattoos coming down her cheeks, frowned, the expression marring her otherwise angelic features.

I moved aside as fast as I could.

Once they were out of an earshot, I sighed. I might've been focused on Betsy, but even distracted, I felt something off about each of them. I didn't want to know what, end of story.

Putting them out of my mind, I rang for Betsy's loft.

A full twenty seconds later, a sharp "What?" answered me.

The tone sounded like the one she had when she called me the first time: righteous fury and consuming anger. "It's Vivian Cerras. Umm, is this a bad time?"

God, please don't turn me away, please don't do it because I don't know if I'd be able to-

"No." She sounded more in control now like she'd flipped the switch from maniacal to normal. "Please, come on up."

I was up three flights of stairs in no time and knocking on her Victorian styled front door in even less. I couldn't breathe quite right as I braced for the culmination of my obsession to see me again. I'd almost decided what to say, how I'd tell her I couldn't stop thinking about her, how I needed her. I'd tell her the truth because, quite frankly, I didn't know what else to tell her.

Then she opened the door and all of it went out the window.

Her beautiful eyes puffed up, red with recently spilled tears. She looked tired in her dark blue bathrobe and still wet hair. I'd built her up in my mind to be a sexual goddess, but seeing her hurt, seeing her sadness, that changed everything.

She was suddenly more human.

"Excuse the mess," she said as she invited me in, "I just had a few guests over."

It was out my mouth before I could stop it. "You mean that gang going out of the building just now?"

Stupid. Gang? What if said gang were friends? Obviously they weren't very good friends, but what if she took offense?

"Intimidating bunch, aren't they?" She picked up a few glasses of water and some various other dishes. I helped, numbly waiting for her to finish her thought. "Do you want something to drink? Soda? Water? Win-"

"What did they do to you? Why were you crying?"

Prying? Maybe, but I felt very... protective of her. She was mine and only mine and... and...

Didn't I say I had an over-active imagination?

She smiled at me and fished out two shot glasses from the cupboard. "It's just drama. You know how friends are."

"No, I don't know how friends are. Friends don't go to another friend's apartment, bring her to tears, and leave with like a bunch of angry mobsters." I thought about it for a moment. They sure seemed like a close-knit gang. "They weren't mobsters, were they?"

A bottle of scotch--Johnnie Walker, Blue Label--went into her hands and poured into the two glasses. "No mobsters, just... friends."

She walked over to the couch and swung her feet onto the coffee table. With the drink resting on her lap, her arms splayed out, and her dreamy eyes shut, she left no room for conversation.

Not that I'd let something go that easily. "Tell me what they did to you."

"Vivian, don't. It's drama, it's complicated, and it's something in my life I just want to run away from. They don't believe something that happened and I can't convince them otherwise. Don't spoil what we have by getting involved."

What we have? "We have nothing!"

She rolled her head at me and opened her eyes. "We have that night. That's enough."

"What if it's not enough for me?"

"Then leave. My life is a convoluted storm and everything close inevitably gets sucked in. I don't want to spoil something as primally pure as what we shared."

"Well, too bad. The decision's not for you to make."

"Vivian," she warned but I cut her off.

"I can't stop thinking about you. I thought it was because I wanted your body. I thought if I'd beg enough, we'd have another night together and I could go on with my life. No, that's not happening, at least, not anymore. I'm worried about you now, it's not just about me and my satisfaction. I can't stop thinking about you, but it's not because I want to touch you. I want to see you smile; I need to hear you laugh; I want something to happen between us, something more than sex."

"And what made you change your mind?"

"Your so-called friends and your tears. It just happened. I don't know how, but it did."

"You're confusing love and lust. You just want me here for my body."

"Don't tell me how I should think!"

"Then grow up. We fucked, that's it. No strings attached, no complications. It was a business transaction. If you felt something else, you're mistaken."

There it was, a little inflection in her voice. The drone of defeat rang through my ears, undeniable. She was tired, she was run down, she just went through a scrap with her "friends," and in the aftermath, Betsy's unreadable, unfathomable shield lowered long enough for me to hear the lies coming out of her mouth. She cared, because if she didn't, she would've ravished me on the couch and sent me packing.

That's what users did. That's what lady-killers who were sex in motion did.

"I'll leave," I said, putting my drink down, "on one condition."

"What?"

"Tell me why your friends had you in tears."

She didn't even think about it. "Get out."

"Answer me."

"I don't owe you anything. My friends are my business."

"You're scared."

"No, scared is running away. This? This is bloody ticked off, you dumb whore."

I... I'd never been... why... "What did you call me?"

"A bloody dumb whore," she repeated with extra emphasis on all the most biting parts. She rose to her full height and glowered at me like a piece of trash. "I should've known you were the needy type. That's all you think about, isn't it? How to capture one night's magic in a fucking little bottle. What did you expect? Undying love? Me to be your fuck toy for the rest of eternity? Wake up, Vivian, you're just another insignificant notch on my goddamn bedpost."


I left after that. I didn't cry, but if I was honest with myself, I would've said I didn't cry because I couldn't not because I didn't want to. While long relationships always eluded me (some my fault, some not), I'd never been dumped the way Betsy dumped me.

Well, dumped really wasn't the word. Ostracized? Too impersonal. Ridiculed? Not painful enough. Executed? There we go.

I hadn't exactly been executed that way before. I hadn't felt so many mixed signals for a person before. I had never been so close to connecting with a woman only to have her close up and decimate me like that.

A part of me wanted to do all kinds of evil things, some of which included arson (to her new loft), assault (to her), larceny (to her cache of Japanese artwork I spied), and public intoxication (to me, just to work myself up to thinking these things). A bigger part of me, the more quiet but more reasonable side, told me to let it go.

I'd been humiliated enough, no need to go down that road again. One night was one night. A good fuck was a good fuck. I wanted her again but not at the cost of degrading myself. Did I really want to have a relationship with a woman I hardly knew who indulged so willingly with casual sex? Could I ever love someone who could be as cruel as murderer at the drop of a hat?

No and no.

I stopped looking out the window at 6:37 AM. I took the long way to work so I didn't have to walk past her loft. Little things, but I found the little things made life easier. Betsy was a bad dream and if I told myself that enough times, she'd fade away like a bruise.

Friday came around. I intended to use the weekend to work off my post-coital hangover, maybe even meet someone who wasn't an ass. All day I'd been fanaticizing about the local clubs like Strata, Exit, and Underscore. Music, drinks, maybe even a few friends to make the times more comfortable. Balancing my briefcase, my laptop, my overcoat, and my keys, I unlocked my door and flicked the light switch with an elbow.

Nothing.

Again I flicked it.

Nothing.

Great--blown fuse, burnt out bulbs, power outage, whatever. Slamming my door closed, I threw my things off to the side where I wouldn't trip on them and fished out my cell phone. I turned on my phone's camera flash, which in essence was an awfully bright light that shined until I took a picture. It annoyed my friends to no ends and didn't do its purported job well, but hey, even inept things had their functions.

As I walked to the kitchen to check the lights there, I felt a sharp chill press up against my throat.

"Do not move if you wish to live." A gloved hand reached around and snared my phone. "Now then, the games can begin. Let's see if you have my little butterfly's number."


I couldn't see a thing. There was a blindfold on me, that and a sack or bag or... or... Bag and sack were the same, weren't they? Some kind of soft rope or silk bound my wrists and ankles to a chair, probably one of the six chairs at my dining table. Whoever my captor was, he'd made himself scarce, never taunting me. I didn't dare move either because I could just feel him looking at me, waiting for me to break his warning, wanting me to give him a reason to kill me or worse. What little I heard of his voice, I guessed he was Japanese or some other kind of Asian.

Couldn't tell, didn't get a chance to even catch a glimpse of him.

See, that's the kind of stuff I occupied myself with when I couldn't move, see, or talk. Talk? Oh yeah, did I forget to mention the lovely gag on me too? Just peachy. Just perfect. I hadn't made it into my thirties and here I was about to die.

I hadn't seen France yet. I'd never had a child. My parents still thought I was straight. I wouldn't outlast Bush's presidency. My cable bill still wasn't paid and it was going to be late in two days. Could I pay if I was dead? Would they take it out of my checking account? I didn't even have a will.

God, oh God, I couldn't die. No, wait, I could but I didn't want to. My best years were still ahead of me: nice job, Manhattan condo, single. I should've been enjoy life, not waiting for some crazy serial killer to off me like some horror movie extra.

I hated horror movies. If I lived, I'd never watch another one again. No slashers, no psychological thrillers, nothing with knives or ninja swords.

In the middle of my predeath promises, the cold steel came up to my neck. I shivered and let the tears roll. What did I have to lose now? Pride? I could wet myself and it'd be nothing but a hearty fuck you to this psycho.

"You can come out, my little butterfly. I assured you that your lady friend would be unharmed, and as you can see, I've kept my word."

Who was he talking to? Butterflies? Shit, he was nuts. Nuts, nuts, nuts, nuts, nuts.

"Take off the bag, Matsu'o."

Betsy? Oh my God, that was Betsy's voice!

A soft click and the glow of lights barely filtered through the thick cloth around my eyes. I only saw muddled splotches, not even forms.

"You don't trust me? You should know I am, above all things, an honorable warrior."

"You have no honor. Show me who is under there."

The metal left my skin, but before I should sigh in relief, a stabbing explosion of agony ripped through my thigh and made me scream against the gag.

"You should recognize her voice from that fine sample."

"Matsu'o!"

"Oh, very well."

Cold and not stuffy air hit my face right about the same time another shot of pain rush in thank to the sword or knife retracting from my thigh. I screamed and strained again, jerking wildly against my restraints and trying in my own useless way to make my leg stop hurting.

I still couldn't see squat.

The metal, now warm and slick, returned to my throat.

"Pretty this one, much more beautiful than your gruff angel."

"She's just a girl."

"Oh no, not just a girl I'm afraid. You wouldn't come here for any girl. You wouldn't give in to my demands if it was just any girl. She's worth something to you."

I thought I was... I was...

"I'm not like you: I value human life."

"Enough!" A hand grabbed my hair and pulled it back to exposed more of my neck. The metal, cooling now, pressed harder and broke skin. My sobs and shifting stopped, fear freezing me. "I've shown you her face. Now, where is Cerebra's database?"

I heard plastic hit the hardwood floor a good distance from me. "There."

A rough laughter filled my ears while a hard tug made me yelp. "My turn to doubt! Do you expect me to believe you have Cerebra's entire database in that flimsy DVD case?"

"Well, what the hell did you want it in? A million page printout?"

"Very good, my butterfly," he chuckled maniacally, "very good."

"Let her go."

"We shall see if you are as honorable as I. Saijonchi, Kameda." More footsteps appeared out of nowhere. "Take the discs and check them."

"You're afraid of me. Why else would you bring your flunkies?"

"Of that you are correct. I fear what is beautiful, and you, my darling butterfly, are beauty given life. Saijonchi and Kameda are here to make sure your beauty does not overwhelm me."

"You're so full of shit, you coward." Betsy... Betsy was going to kill me. I could tell this Matsu'o person stiffened, his grasp on my hair tightening and his blade tremoring. "You couldn't steal Cerebra's database by yourself, so you took an innocent nobody hostage and pressured me to do it. That's disgusting and-"

"Effective. It's effective. Who has earned the wrath of the X-Men? You. Who has what he wants? Me. It's effective because this darling thing I have is more than a nobody to you. Why else would you weep over her departure? Why else would you linger outside her dwelling when she was at work?"

Weep over my departure? Linger? What was he-

"You were watching me. I thought we were even after Kwannon's death."

"The world keeps moving. The times change. You died, you lived, you died, and now, you're here. Enemies are made, destroyed, and remade again. Our paths cross, our lives clash, and such is our dance for all eternity."

A tense second paused all sound, thought, and motion.

Then, "What if I want a new dance partner?"

From my right, "Tsurayaba-san! The discs are fake!"

The fuse lit so long ago finally burned out and exploded this waiting powder keg. Sounds of something flying through the air whisked away and toward me while the metal pressed on my throat lifted. The blindfold on me suddenly slipped loose, the one side sliced cleanly by what had to be one of the projectiles. I saw Betsy, in her grip a materializing katana blazing like a beacon. To my right next to a laptop that wasn't mine, two men grabbed their upper arms where darts stuck out of them.

Behind me, I heard someone stumble into the wall.

Suddenly, I was moving on my own while my wrists and ankles remained motionless. I was... floating somehow, and I floated away from this Matsu'o person, stopping only when I was behind Betsy. If I wasn't hurt, gagged, and freaked out already, I'd scream... again.

I shook my head to clear my tear soaked eyes. I saw Matsu'o for the first time and wished I hadn't. His hands covered his face as he began wailing. Blood, running down his sleeves and pooling onto his lap, fountained from him. His sword lay on the floor.

"Go," commanded Betsy, pointing her weapon at the two men by the laptop, "Never come back. If the Hand so much as thinks about bothering me again, remember that I could have killed your leader on this very day. I let him live, and now, he--as well as his clan--is indebted to me. And should any of you not honor the debt, I will hunt every one of you down with every resource I have and make you wish you never swore an allegiance to him. Do you understand?"


Three weeks later...

"It's a such shame."

While the movers finished packing up the last of my boxes, I shared a look with my neighbor--a portly underwriter named Del--and smiled sadly at him. "Yeah, I liked the place too. Got to realize though, I just don't feel safe here anymore."

"I'll say! Boy, what's the world coming to? First someone mugs Mrs. Newman in broad daylight, now someone breaks into your condo! You'd think they'd have better security for the money we paid!" He adjusted his glasses and glanced at my cane. "They'd ever catch the guy?"

"No," I shook my head, "but I have a feeling he won't be coming back."

"He better not!" roared Del as his flexed his nonexistent biceps. "I'd show him a thing or two if he tried to hurt you again!"

"Don't worry, she's in good hands."

An arm wrapped around my shoulder. Betsy's nutty coconut shampoo wafted its fragrance into my nose and widened my smile. "Where were you?" I purred, nuzzling her neck.

"Putting the fragile things in my car. You ready?"

"I should be asking you that. I'm not the one having someone else move into my loft."

"I'll live."

"You sure?" I teased. "I remember you saying-"

She kissed me, and from the corner of my eye, I spied Del gaping at us while his mind processed one of his many boyhood dreams come true.

We separated, me breathless and her grinning. "It's complicated. Let's leave it at that."

"Ok," I squeaked as she hooked my arm and led me away.

So it didn't start like a fairy tale. Our courtship wasn't some long, drawn out process of furtive glances and long stemmed roses. We skipped the getting to know you part and jumped straight to the sex and after morning fight. Her idea of a date was saving me from international killers. So it wasn't traditional, so what?

Tradition held love back. Tradition said that two women couldn't love each other. Tradition dictated that mutants were freaks. Tradition was what made real life boring.

We'd talked while I was in the hospital, said our peace and let it all be. She told me: X-Men, former assassin, superhero, tried to protect me by not pursuing a relationship. I told her: I didn't give a damn. Betsy was Betsy, exotic, exotic, and erotic. She was cruel, she was benevolent, she was unreasonable, she was enlightenment, she was a paradox.

And I loved her for it.

All my life I'd read people like books, knowing them by watching them. Betsy was unreadable, an unknown, an adventure. She was the spark, that something fresh who'd make every day a new one and not some tired routine. She wasn't my compliment or my opposite.

She was my challenge and she was mine.


- The End.