Title: Think I'm Fallin'
Series: FE10 (AU)
Rating: I think Heather gets an automatic PG-13 rating, but, whatever.
Summary: AU Nephenee's plain country life is about to get a whole lot more interesting with Heather around.
A/N: Intended for IDOF, but I couldn't finish it in time because I was like "ohshi PACING!"
Thanks to Myaru (and various other people. You know who you are!) who looked over snippets and listened to me whine. This was intended to be a stand alone, but there will probably be more in this universe, though centering on other characters. I don't know, I tend to wander away from ficverses easily.
For The Gauntlet, 23) I'll whisper sweet words to you, and some of them may be true / 016. Invitation shoujoai100.
After her stint in the local militia, Nephenee took to a local diner in southern Crimea. It was where her pappy and her pappy's pappy had worked. Brom had taken on a job as a fry cook to help feed his lil' uns and it all felt real nice, just like a family reunion. The lil' place was called Hometown Cookin' and was retro simply for never upgrading year by year. People round these parts found the yellowed orange and white tiles and orange vinyl booths charmin'. Just like the trademark down home cookin'. Her boss was a bit mean, but weren't all bosses like that? Back when she had been in the Crimean army for a stint, she'd been commanded around by Mister Soren and he wasn't a nice chap at all. He was like her sister Lulumee liked to call 'needin' a tussle' though Nephenee never saw it that way. Now, he was working as a manager and accountant all in one. Nephenee didn't even know how many jobs Mister Soren had. He was the type who was married to his work and nothin' but workin' could make him happy – if he even ever was happy that was.
On Tuesdays there ware weenie dogs on special and on Fridays there was the best fried chicken for three counties. Not to mention the best ribs in all the land. Mister Ike came for a heaping plate of them every single day and that was the only time Mister Soren ever softened up at all. Nephenee had heard that they'd been close friends since they were lil'uns and that Mister Ike could take one look at Mister Soren and stop a stormin' rage with just a word.
Mister Soren had first just been their accountant, but once they found out how good he was at ordering people around, he got that job too. Nephenee knew that Mister Soren gave Mister Ike all his employee discounts but nobody cared. She thought maybe they were just glad to see Soren not acting like some woman on her flow.
That's how it was. Things were never really very different at Hometown Cookin'. They dealt in nostalgia and sameness. There'd be the same specials at the same price from here to kingdom come.
At least until she came.
It was late-shift Thursday with the last of the crowd just leavin' when that customer came. She was really ritzy type, with long gold hair just like models had. Her boots were tall and spiky and must be mighty uncomfortable.. She was glad that Mister Soren never cared if she wore tenner shoes, cause last time she wore heels at her cousin's wedding, she had a blister all week.
The customer felt across the orangey vinyl and muttered something which Nephenee thought was "Tacky". She couldn't be quite sure though.
"Can I help you Miss?" Nephenee said.
The customer brightened up and smiled. A bright big smile that was a mite bit smirky and hungry all at once.
"Why yesss. I'd be honored if you helped me. In fact it would make my day."
"Why dontcha sit down a bit and I'll getcha some water there, miss. It's awful late for a pretty gal like yerself to be out. Not that Southern Crimea ain't safe, but there's tales of rovin' gangs in the news and us womenfolk cain't be too careful. I heard a friend of my cousins was molested something horrible like. It's a tragedy, really so you should stay safe."
The customer brightened even more, if possible. All earlier traces of disgust peeled away and for all her happiness, the diner might as well have been a slice of heaven.
"You need not worry, Miss Beautiful Waitress –" she squinted to see the name scribbled out on her nametag, "Nephenee – my that's such a pretty name. But I digress, even if it is a lovely digression– Nephenee, Nephenee. I am not a girl to be taken down by any mere male gangs Ha! I scoff at the idea! But what about you my dear? Isn't it a bit late for you to be out? There might be perverts, or thieves about."
The customer smiled as if the last were a particular joke that Nephenee had never heard.
"Me? Nah, I've been in the army. I always carry around my trust revolver. Most of us do. We all grew up huntin' 'round these here parts."
Nephenee was aware of a certain pair of red eyes borin' into her back. She'd gotten pretty good at recognizin' when she was getting the Glare Of Death, but that didn't stop her from sometimes chattin' up the customers. Especially when it was late and her feet were tired. Mister Soren did give them such long hours. He practically kept a stopwatch for their breaks.
"Uh, miss, I think I better get to yer order before my manager comes and scolds me. He's angrier than a kicked nest of hornets sometimes."
"I'm utterly famished, but I can't believe that despicable man would scold you for simply making me feel safe and at ease here. He should have a stern talking to – or even fired!"
Nephenee clicked her pen twice. "Nono, Mister Soren's very good at what he does. He balanced all our books for years and years back and charged us lots less. He's just...a workaholic type. Married to his job and all."
"Hmm," the customer said, still not entirely placated. She sent Soren a death glare of her own before tossing her gold mane of hair indignantly and turning her attention back to Nephenee.
"So– would you like to browse the menu s'more or do you want a list of our specials?"
The customer thought for a long moment. She stroked her chin thoughtful like, then looked up with the most devilish grin Nephenee did ever see.
"I might be interested...if you'd read it," she said.
"...The entire menu, miss?"
"Please, call me Heather," she purred, "And yes. Your accent is charming and with a shape like that..has anyone ever told you that you'd make a lovely actress? I'm sure you could take Beginion by storm!"
Nephenee flushed. "Yer kind, but I'm no good at actin' Alright..Heather. The specials for today were Clam Chowder, though we're out of that now, and we've got some BLTs which are mighty fine..."
Heather's gaze didn't always stay with Nephenee's eyes. They moved down and lingered on her mouth, and then lower to appraise her breasts. But then maybe Heather was a big-time Bengion talent agent, so it'd make sense for her to 'size her up' so to speak.
After Heather ordered her things, Nephenee had to get back to work, but when she came back for the check, Heather left a hundred gold as a tip. It was the biggest tip Nephenee had ever got – ever even seen.
Mister Soren locked up the doors like every night and Mister Ike came to pick him up. That was the way it always was. They were chattin' over there while Mister Soren locked up shop and it was really amiable like. Mister Soren was almost a different person about his friend.
Nephenee gathered up her purse and fished out her keys. She lived too close to the diner to justify driving, but she always kept alert on the trip back. She wasn't no weakling, and she'd held her own while in the army, but she wasn't gonna take any chances here.
So maybe it was the talk with Heather about protectin' that had gotten her jittery, but when she heard the taptaptap of boots on the walk behind her, she spun about to face whoever it was.
A familiar face peeked out from behind the shadows she'd been hangin' in.
"Oh Nephy, there's no need to be so alarmed. It's just me!"
"Heather, ya nearly scared the livin' daylights out of me. ...Were ya followin' me?"
Heather giggled. "I'm so sorry, I just wanted to make sure you got home safe. The thought of you being accosted has been haunting me something terrible. Please let me take you home."
"But I was the one who said you needed protectin'. You seem like too much of a high class gal to be walkin' these streets this late at night."
"You worried about me?" Heather purred. "Oh, that's even better. We'll protect each other and...watch each other's backs if you will."
"That sounds like a good plan. Us womenfolk need to stick together," Nephenee replied.
Heather locked her arm in Nephenee's. She didn't mention that if they were going to fight off perverts, they'd probably need both hands. Heather seemed to think her mere presence would be a deterrent. Maybe it was, as the walk home was as quiet as could be save for their chatter.
Heather came all the time now, and there was never really a specific time she came. She came when they were just opening or just closing and every time in between. More than once Nephenee met her along the way and walked her two or fro. Heather never talked much about what she did for work, but with her designer clothes, Nephenee thought she must be a socialite or some high class partyin' gal. Girls of her type just didn't hang around the poorer classes of Crimea. Not unless they were like Mister Ike, who'd been knighted and well onto being a lord when he threw all that high class away to take on some family business that couldn't even support itself on its own. Had Mister Soren not taken on a job (or two), they might have gone under long ago.
So she really was some kind of mysterious gal. Heather seemed to single out the times when Nephenee would be alone, as if she'd been watchin' for just the right moment. There were a few times when she'd even given a death glare of her own to a newly arrived customer who'd be interruptin' their chattin'.
She learned a lot about Heather. Like that she was currently working on some top-secret thing to get money for her granny, and that asking if she had a boyfriend got a very negative response. In fact, Heather seemed to put food poisonin' on a higher scale than a boyfriend. She sure was a weird one, but in a good way. She was funny and a breath of fresh air. Nephenee found her thoughts coming back through the day to amusin' things Heather had said, and it made her smile to herself. Heather always managed to make the worst days better, even when she wasn't there.
The worst part was when the late night weekends came on. That was when you got people comin' right in from the nearest bar. The bar wasn't all bad, but at times some of the thuggish types hung out there. Sometimes Mister Ike worked as a bouncer over there when Gatrie and Shinon had days off. Then again, Gatrie and Shinon weren't the best bouncers as they tended to get drunk halfway through, but it was just more proof that Rhys really wasn't up to inheriting a bar. Nights when Mister Ike worked were listed publically and those days were the designated Ladies Night. (That one was Ranulf's idea, not Rhys'). Mister Ike came back real late on the nights, at times with his tight, bouncer's black shirt all ripped up if he'd run into Aimee. Mister Soren always had a plate of ribs and a big of beer ready for him then.
The Sunday hangover crowd was a much nicer lot. They just rested their heads on the tables and moaned a lot. She'd never heard a bit of complaint from them (other than "Ohhh, my head").
Tonight they had some of the worse members of the bar crowd: a biker type-crowd from out of town. There was two of em, both greasy and thick middle aged men with a chip on their shoulders. They wore leather vests imprinted with white skulls on the back that were about two sizes too small for their bulk.
A thick, grubby hand reached for her skirt. "Hey pretty—"
Before Mister Ike could even leave his beloved plate of ribs, there was a clatter of heels and a very stylish heel in some Italian word she could never remember.
Heather pushed his hands away. "If you touch her again I'll have to break your fingers, asshole. I have stilettos and I'm not afraid to use them."
Heather's shoes were pretty fearsome. Things like that could put out an eye, easily. They were about as scary as Mister Soren at his worst, but a lot more in vogue.
"Oh, your girlfriend came to rescue you—"
Their taunt stopped the minute Mister Ike leaned on the table. He cleared his throat and gave them all a Meaningful Glare.
"Got a problem here?"
Mister Ike excelled at his job as bouncer. One look at those pecs and thugs reconsidered their career choices and considered going into the priesthood.
Heather wasn't one to bask in the glory. While Ike gave them a 'talkin' to' Heather dragged Nephenee to the farther, thug-free part of the cafe.
"I didn't even see you come in, Heather. Thanks for swoopin' in there to my defense like some hero or somesuch."
"Oh don't worry, Nephenee. I'll protect you, sweetie."
"But I was here to make sure yer alright. You sure did a brave thing takin' on those men by yerself."
Heather beamed. "Anything for your sake!"
Mister Ike glanced over at Mister Soren. "Maybe we should hire her."
"We're a diner. We don't have a pressing need for a bouncer. Especially not one whose only helpful attribute would be her looks. If anything she would accelerate the problem."
Mister Ike grinned. "Still, she could take you in a fight any day."
Mister Soren scowled. Twelve-year-old children could take down Soren in a fight. However, Mister Ike was the only one who could get away with saying anything of the sort and escape with their jobs intact.
Heather went up and left for some time. She didn't even leave a note. Nephenee felt a mite bit sluggish, but only cause she liked to talk to Heather after work. She was a little worried too, though Heather was the type of gal who could probably take care of herself. Probably.
Nephenee was already missin' the time they spent together. Heather was a bright light into her day.
On the radio, instead of the best oldies she heard as breaking news bulletin.
This just in, The Black Cat, a notorious jewel thief has struck again. This time her target was Begnion's massive treasury and a priceless necklace called Altina's Adoration was stolen—
It sure was excitin' times. Thieves runnin' off with priceless jewels and it wasn't even in the movies.
Heather showed up two days later, just like nothing had happened. She looked just as classy and pretty as before, if not more for the absence.
"You've been gone a long time, Heather," Nephenee said.
"Did you miss me?" Heather said with a catlike grin.
"Well, yeah. Yer great company."
Heather pouted a bit. "Is that all? Wasn't there any ooother reasons?"
"I like talking to ya?" Nephenee said hopefully.
"Well, that's a little better," Heather sniffed. She wrapped her arms about Nephenee is a close hug that took her by surprise. A swathe of gold hair fell over Nephenee's shoulder and she caught a whiff of Heather's intoxicatin' perfume. She'd been meanin' to ask what that was. She kept catching that scent on other women and thinkin' immediately of yellow hair and a sultry voice.
Nephenee reached up and tangled her fingers in that gold hair without even thinking. Girls touched each other like this all the time.
"Yer really pretty, Heather. A real high class girl."
"Why thank you...You're very pretty as well. Gorgeous, really. Oh! And before I forget! I got you something."
Heather released her and went to go dig into her bag. She came up with some glittering jewelry of the kind Nephenee had never seen outside of museums and television commercials.
Heather pushed Nephenee's hair over her shoulder and fastened the necklace. It was heavier than it looked, and the prettiest thing she ever did see. The cut of the stones were large and aquamarine and turquoise and lotsa other stones Nephenee didn't know the name of. They were all bluish in color.
"It's exquisite. A beautiful necklace for a beautiful girl. It's only fitting."
"But, somethin' this expensive...I cain't accept this."
"Oh, but you must! My heart would be utterly broken if you didn't! You shouldn't wear it out though. Wear it when you're home and think of me when you do!"
Nephenee blushed. She'd never had anything pretty like this before. Even her pappy's presents to her mammy had been fake pearls and a ring that came out of a cracker box. This was the kinda necklace that would take her twenty years of work to even think of putting a down payment on.
"Well... if ya insist like that I cain't say no."
"That's my girl!" Heather gushed. She threw her arms about Nephenee again.
Nephenee wrung out the mop and dumped the water outside. She could've dumped it in the restrooms, but the water tended to spill and make it a hazard. Last time Brom had taken a spill in there and tripped and hit his head. He'd had a cut that needed five stitches
Nephenee looked up from dumping the water to the drainage grate outside. She pushed her hair out of her face and wiped at the collected grime of the day. She wore bright ruby lipstick that was glamourous and matched the exact shade of the car.
"Aren't you off soon? I'm here to rescue you from this dreadful job!"
Heather was at the wheel of a particularly fancy new red convertible that she definitely hadn't had a few weeks ago. Her hair was windblown and tangled in all the right ways.
"Can't I clean up first? I'm all dirty and sweaty."
"I, for one think you look gorgeous – but if you insist– "
"Where are we goin'?"
Heather stared at her, all intense like. It really was like a scene out of the movies.
"Wherever you want," she said.
"Oh, can we go to that place downtown? Hammere's. 'We'll Recharge you when you're broken down' – I always did love that jingle. They've got such good ice cream."
Heather pressed a gloved hand to her mouth to stifle a giggle. "Oh Nephy, you're so cute. Your wish is my command – right after you shower and change, that is."
Mister Soren was out doing some businessly thing with Mister Ike, so there was no one to notice her leaving early. Brom would be glad to cover for her. Mister Soren would probably find her out, but fingers crossed that he would be too distracted by the pilin' on of tax season to notice.
"Just give me a second and I'll be right there," Nephenee said.
Mister Soren had already turned off the neon 'open' sign and locked the front doors. He carried of a tome of a binder, which he practically bent over from the weight of it. Mister Ike was off workin' his bouncer job, so there was no one to carry things for Mister Soren. Seeing him lift things was kinda pathetic, but Mister Ike was the only one he every trusted enough to take care of his things.
Brom shook his head. The pots and pans were already cleaned and put up for the day. Though he didn't have to, Brom grabbed a mop to help with the grime of the day. That was just the kind of friend he was.
"That Mister Soren, he's always so angry. He needs to get himself a girlfriend. A good woman, that's the cure for it."
Nephenee smiled. Soren needed a tussle if she ever saw one.
"Nephenee, ya sure have been happy lately."
"Yeah, I guess I have," she said.
"So who is he? This guy of yers."
"Oh don't try an' hide it! You've got all the looks of a girl in love. Yer just like my eldest girl befer her weddin'. Even like my Meggie when she's talkin' about that nice young man she hopes to marry. I told you the first time I saw him that he was gonna be a part of my family one day."
"Zihark, was it?"
"Yeah, that's the one," he said.
"It sure is nice you've finally got yerself a man. I was jus' here tellin' my lovely wife that you needed someone."
Nephenee forced a smile.
"I promised my ma that I'd be home right away tonight."
"Oh, I see. I see. Well, I'll finish up for you."
He winked, and she ducked out. She caught the streetlights refractin' off of some golden hair. And yeah, she was happy.
It was another two weeks before Nephenee caught sight of a newscast about The Black Cat's recent strike. It was the exact same necklace Heather had given her. She even checked it to be sure.
She tried to convince herself this was a replica. They made those, didn't they? But she knew. All the pieces fit. The secret job, the clothes, the disappearance––
And it was like Heather, wasn't it?
She spent work in a daze. Mister Soren had her in a constant glare, but not even that could make her shape up. Her mind was on autopilot, and not a very good one. She spent the mornin' pourin' dishwasher fluid in coffee cups and using coffee to mop up the floor. It took drastic, shoulder massaging intervention from Ike to keep her from losing her job.
After work Heather was waitin' as always, but Nehphenee didn't feel the same thrill she'd felt before.
Heather embraced her immediately, but Nephenee was stiff and cold. Heather frowned and took a long look at her. Her hands still rested on Nephenee's shoulders.
Nephenee thought hard of the the words before she said them, and she still didn't like the feel of them on her tongue.
"...Heather, are you that Black Cat girl?"
Heather looked impressed. "You're astute, Nephenee."
"That necklace you gave me, it's the one on the news, isn't it? You know all the police are after you now."
"Oh Nephy, I'll be fine! They can't catch me! But I'll miss you awful much...unless you want to go with me.... It could be grand! Just think! We'd be Bonny and Clyde, but without that useless Clyde. Bonnie and Bonny! With your knowledge of the army and firing skills, we'd never get caught ever."
Heather put her arm about Nephenee and edged closer.
"I don't know, Heather... I don't like stealin'..."
Heather put a hand to her breast dramatically, just over her heart. "What? What's there to not like about stealing? Especially when it's just stealing from those corrupt nobles. I'm like Robin Hood. I'm stealing from the rich to give to the poor – namely myself."
Nephenee had to smile at Heather's dramatics, but that didn't change the end result. Nehphenee held out the lovely necklace. Heather took it in a sort of stupor, a shock. That necklace had been the sweetest thing anyone had ever done for her, but she couldn't accept a gift that was someone else's.
"I cain't, Heather," Nephenee said.
She took a long breath and one last look at Heather.
"And...we cain't be friends like this anymore. I cain't just look the other way while you're out stealin' things. I don't hate you or nothin', but I cain't."
She walked off and Heather didn't call after her.
After that, Heather didn't come around again. Weeks and months passed on. After Begnion agents had cased the place and found it clean, and Mister Soren had been as grumpy as a bear. In fact, Mister Ike was kept around just to keep Soren from firing them all one by one. But the publicity sure got them more customers. All kinds of people were comin' in just to see where the famous, beautiful jewel thief had been hiding out.
So her life was gonna get a lot less excitin' now. With no walks to look forward to or some beautiful, stunnin' gal fawnin' all over her. Nephenee missed it. She knew Heather wasn't evil or nothing, just a mite bit capricious. So she'd stolen a bit, but Nephenee knew plenty of people who had shoplifted a few things and now were upstandin' citizens. Her sister Lulumee, for one, had been quite a wild thing during her younger years. Now she tended to get on her high-horse and conveniently forget her criminal record.
She didn't really want to break it off, but she couldn't just go on and be wonderin' if this tip was from some poor family's college fund.
Every returned to that same dull normal place that it'd been at before.
Mister Ike was at the main table, tappin' his fingers away on the bar. Obviously that meant his meal was on the way and he was starvin'. She was just about to settle back into the drudgery of her work when Mister Ike's attention came to rest on her.
"Some girl left this for you," Mister Ike said.
There was a shiny silvery blue cell phone in his hands. Nephenee took it, and looked it over from side to side.
"Some gal? Didja get her name?"
"Nope. She just told me to give it to you."
"Was she real pretty and classy with a lot of lovely gold hair?"
"Well.... she was blond and female if that's what you mean."
And then Mister Ike's plate of ribs came, and Nephenee knew there was no use asking him anything else. For Mister Ike, everything else disappeared when there were ribs to be eaten.
Food was his one true love in life, and Ribs were his very favorite of all of them. It was an ongoing joke that if one could legally marry a plate of food, Mister Ike would.
Nephenee was never much for technology, but she stepped outside and opened the silvery blue front and looked at the screen. She turned it on and flipped with the buttons a bit. It made a few beepin' noises and went to a whole 'nother screen.
Unexpectedly, the phone rang. She nearly dropped the thing in pure shock. The ringtone was a snippet of Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.
"Nephenee!" A familiar voice on the line squealed. "Oh Nephenee!"
"H-Heather? Is that you? Are you ok? I've heard all sorts of things."
"Yes! I'm safe away and back with my dear grandmother. I'm afraid I've given her quite a fright. And I'm quitting the business. Oh Nephy I've missed you something terrible."
"Me too, Heather. I really have."
A bit of her was tinglin' and blushin' as she realized it really was true. She had missed Heather and not even just as a friend.
"So, if I wasn't back in..the business, then perhaps you'd—?"
"Well, I don't know, Heather...I've got a job and my family to take care of. Immediate family that is. I don't have a husband or lil'uns."
"Oh thank heavens. You almost gave me a heart attack here," Heather said.
"Lemme think about it. I mean. I cain't just go up and leave. I'd be lettin' Mister Soren and Mister Ike down..."
"Why not?" Heather said.
"Because...er... My family and..job..."
"Life's too short to be held down by what others think. Don't they have another daughter to take care of them?"
"Well, yeah," Nephenee said.
"So take it!"
"No thinking! It's time, Nephenee. The opportunity is here and it's time to jump!"
So this was some whirlwind romance, except it took a little time for Nephenee to even realize that she was bein' courted or that she might even not be opposed to such a thing. Just think, two girls together. It'd make her grandmammy have the vapors again, but she had the same about Nephenee going into the army. So she was pretty much already in her bad graces anyways.
So it was. She jumped.
"Alright...I'll go with ya...to wherever yer goin' to."
"Oh I'm so glad, Nephenee! I'll be there to pick you up by the end of the week I've got to go, dear Nephy. Buh-bye for now. Kisses!" There was a smacking sound into the phone and then it cut off.
Nephenee held the phone to her ear a lot longer than needed to.
"Seeya soon, Heather..."
She finally closed the cell and put it in her apron pocket. The door rang as she came in, dazed, but determined. Before she could even say a thing about her Two Week's Notice, Ike looked up from his plate of ribs (miracle of miracles) and took one long look at her. He shook his head all faint and knowing like and gave Soren one of those pointed glances they were always givin' each other. Old friends and all.
"Soren, you're going to need a new waitress," Ike said.
Because for all his seemingly cluelessness, Mister Ike wasn't quite as oblivious as he seemed.
Before anyone mentions the pacing and stuff – I thought it over and it's sorta one of those RomCom whirlwind romances things. HEATHER COMES AND SWEEPS PLAIN COUNTRY GAL NEPHENEE OUT OF HER LIFE INTO A WORLD SHE NEVER IMAGINED.
I'd watch that movie.
Also, this was supposed to be a standalone, but the bar mentions made me come back.