Shinra Masquerade

Chapter 6

Critic perusal

Poke

Lifting her gaze from the now empty cup of coffee Elena turned and nearly hopped out of her boots in shock. Less than an inch from side was that familiar yellow beak which had prodded her on the shoulder. Releasing her death grip on her gun Elena scowled.

"I thought I told you not to surprise me!"

Poke

Elena return smack struck the beak hard enough so that the face it was tied too would feel the jolt of her blow. The Phoenix winced a bit at the hit, and did nothing save stare at her from behind those fake yellow eyes. At last Elena sighed and turned away from him, felling annoyed and frustrated. Her little chat with the Wolf hadn't done much for her humor this evening.

"Are you always so crabby on your off time? You seem like a different person when you're on the clock." The Phoenix noted mildly. The rustle of feathers being stirred told the young Turk that whoever he was he'd felt the blow, and was probably stroking some part of his mask in a futile attempt to alleviate the pain. "Remind me not to talk to you before your morning cup."

Despite herself Elena smiled. She rubbed at her temple with a hand and watched with a bored gaze as the Wolf and Scientist got into some sort of conversation. They were too far out of range to hear a word, and as for lip reading the masks were too great a deterrent for that to be reliable.

"I've been on intensive duty for over a month, hard dirty work. I'm wound up to the point of nearly snapping." Elena explained, almost but not quite telling the truth about her job. That she'd spent the last month quietly slipping into people's lives and leaving a trail of bodies behind.

"So I was warned. However I didn't heed that warning, and for that I apologize."

Turning to face him the Turk arched one eyebrow. "And how would you know anything about the Turks? What we do and how we do it? I thought that was classified."

"I'm a girl with connections, dearhaaart." Phoenix purred, falling into what Elena was fast becoming to identify as the "Scarlet dialect".

"You don't have a big enough of a bust to be Scarlet." Elena snorted. "Actually, you don't have one, period, so stop acting like her."

Phoenix laughed at that, it was a shrill screeching laughter that made Elena's nerves jangle.

"No surprises then, I promise. With your permission may I lay a hand on the lady?"

"If you pull a Reno on me I'll break that hand in several places."

Phoenix only laughed at that. This time it was a low throaty chuckle that came closer to the man's real voice than all the other's combined. Without further adu he set a gloved hand on her shoulder, then promptly set his head upon that hand.

"I've a gift to the lady, two, if she would permit?" Phoenix murmured, an inquisitive note making the statement a request.

"I'll think about it." Elena grumbled.

"Than, for the lady, an accessory." A bit of motion, the barest stirring, then the Phoenix presented something small and red to her. She took it, amused, and rolled it about in her hands until she was sure of it.

"An apology?" Elena snorted, considering the crimson rose in her hands in the weak light.

"From me, yes, from the gift's originator... it has more meaning than that."

"Originator?"

"Alas." Releasing her the Phoenix stepped forward in a majestic sweep, the tail feathers scrapping on the floor however detracted from the motion. Setting one gloved hand upon his head the Phoenix contemplated the ceiling with wide unblinking yellow eyes. "I am not the giver of this gift, merely the messenger Chocobo."

Despite herself Elena grinned a bit at the Phoenix's melodrama. The head dropped down and he whirled on his taloned feet to face her once again. Yellow gloved hand clasped behind his back he stared at her with an intensity that was both jarring but somehow... not hostile.

"I'll make you a deal, if you'd like. You're probably alive with curiosity." The Phoenix rocked back on the heels of his talons. Back and forth, a kind of still pacing. Yet despite the constant rocking those eyes remained pinned on her. "Wouldn't you like to know who gave what and who's here now? You play my game and guess right, and I'll tell you who this is from. But no walking away, no stopping half way because it's too hard or too strange." One hand was wordlessly extended to seal the bargain.

"That sound's suspiciously like a speech, Mr. Phoenix."

"It is. I'm good at them, I'm so good I managed to talk several people who didn't want to come into coming. You're one of them."

The shadows were thick, a kind of gloomy overhanging that was barely dispelled by the winking lights overhead. Perhaps it was her over active imagination but the way the shadows fell over the edge of that beak... the unsure lighting made it seem almost like he was smiling. Elena looked into those blank yellow eyes and then reached out to take the Phoenix's hand.

The man's grip was strong, a mite hot, and a sleeve feather tickled her wrist.

"Do you know who I am yet?" The Phoenix asked, cocking his head to the side. The motion was reminiscent of a bird considering it's quarry.

"No, and it doesn't matter, for now." Elena released her hold, and the Phoenix made an odd clicking noise in the back of his throat. "But I'll tell you, later tonight."

With a delighted chuckle that sounded more real than all the other impersonations and dialects he'd put on so far the Phoenix leapt back gracefully. Half turning he bowed to indicate the door. The steady light under it was flickering, as if muffled and blocked by a set of feet fast approaching.

"Then, for the mademoiselle, I present you the other guests, all for your oh-so critical perusal!"

And at his words the door banged open, and yet more guests arrived.